NEW YORK — The spring 2003 market promises to be one of the busiest in recent years.

The reason is that lingerie has continued to produce healthy sales throughout a relentlessly tough economic year, and retailers are looking to reap the profits of increased innovation and newness the market has to offer.

A plethora of new ideas, concepts, products and brands will be available at Madison Avenue showrooms as well as two trade shows: the Intimate Apparel Salon and newcomer Lingerie Americas. The action generated at other trade fairs, such as Children’s Club and Intermezzo, is also expected to step up traffic at the lingerie venues, mainly because more small specialty operations are merchandising intimate apparel, daywear, sleepwear and at-homewear on the selling floor.

A main mission on the part of department stores will be to secure exclusive styles and brands to differentiate themselves from competitors. Following the demise of the innerwear collection concept of status brands ensconced in sprawling in-store shops — as well as the ongoing debacle of day-in, day-out promotions of national brands in bra, underwear and shapewear departments — merchandise that offers value as well as fashion is in demand.

A number of manufacturers are feeling so bullish about spring and summer business that some will be expanding budgets to include marketing and advertising campaigns. Since Sept. 11, a majority of firms had significantly cut back on advertising expenses, instead beefing up areas such as customer service, sourcing, forecasting, cost control and technology.

Key ideas in demand will include:

l Moderately priced lines of sleepwear, daywear and at-homewear that have a look of fashion.

l Any crossover item a consumer can lounge in, sleep in or even wear outside the home.

l Young, contemporary merchandise that has a sophisticated twist, not junior looking.

l Strong emphasis on embellishments and laces.

l Sex-appealing baby dolls, sheer chemises and slips, and tight-fitting camis and thongs.

Charles Nesbit, president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel and Sara Lee Hosiery, said the company will feature several new highlights for spring 2003.

"Bali will be introducing a no-slip bra, the answer to a nagging problem for many bra wearers. The product is being marketed with a guarantee that the straps will stay on the shoulder or the consumer gets her money back," said Nesbit.He added that Bali will also introduce a cotton version of a patented S-shaped gel comfort strap bra, as well as an expansion of the daywear panty market with contemporary "full-fit" panties in two fabrications, five styles and 18 colors. Sizes will go up to 10.

The Barely There brand will introduce a matte-and-shine diamond-pattern bra called Diamond Works which will also have coordinating daywear pieces. There also will be a new Micro-Stretch Cotton daywear group by Barely There and a group of Santoni-engineered seamless shapers that give firm control called Total Toners, said Nesbit.

Nesbit said three new styles will join the Wonderbra family: an allover lace bra and matching boy-cut brief called Love It Lace, a front-close bra of cotton called Behind The Scenes, and Wonderboost, a new combination strapless push-up bra that is sized up to 40DD.

He further noted that the Playtex brand will launch its new 18-Hour Gel comfort strap bra which will be supported by an aggressive television and national print advertising campaign, including a billboard in Times Square.

"Sara Lee will be intensifying advertising support behind its intimate apparel products. Hanes Her Way will also get a new TV commercial featuring a full range of women’s products," said Nesbit. "Strong print advertising programs will continue to support the Bali, Barely There, Wonderbra, Playtex, Hanes Her Way and Just My Size brands. I anticipate a great market as Sara Lee will be featuring unique innovation in nearly every brand."

David Clark, president of the intimate apparel division at The Warnaco Group, said: "We are expecting a really good turnout mainly because May Co. is coming into this market. The mood is optimistic. We’ve had some good sales across the country and our replenishment has been a lot higher. Our business thrust is helping stores get more sell-throughs with promotional activity and advertising."

Clark said an "aggressive ad" campaign for spring will focus on two groups: Classy Cotton bras and coordinating panties of cotton and Lycra spandex by Warner’s, and a group of cross-dyed lace bras and matching briefs called French Accent by Olga.

He noted that Bodyslimmers will introduce a group of shapers with a "sheer, sensual look," but will still provide control.Alan Fisher, vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America, said: "We haven’t heard any major negatives about business. Retailers are still being conservative, but optimistically conservative, and that’s because lingerie is one of those buoyant categories. We are going up against last year’s third and fourth figures, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to beat."

Fisher added that Wacoal showed the bulk of its spring offerings in May, saying, "For us, this market really will be to confirm spring buys and preview fall 2003."

Victor Lee, chief operating officer of NAP Inc., said: "Given that the expectations of retailers have been reasonable so far, they are doing OK — not great, not horrible. Our business has been good perhaps in part because more people are staying home so our loungewear and pajamas continue to do well."

Lee said "innovative fabrics" are expected to keep driving business. In the Anne Lewin line, he cited three new fabrics: a striped and animal-printed jacquard pique baby loop cotton terry, a viscose French terry and a gauze-like crinkle cotton. The licensed Crabtree & Evelyn line will feature a soft printed cotton seersucker and a woven iridescent cotton for pajamas and night shirts.

"Our Princesse Tam Tam line will be all about luxury, sex and fun with colors that are soft and feminine like mauve, taupe and coral," said Lee, noting there will be French laces, embroidered sheer tulles and amusing prints such as oversized sunflowers.

Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Natori Co., said: "We expect August will be the best market ever, based on outstanding spring 2002 results and initial selling on early fall receipts for our three core brands: Natori, Josie and Cruz."

Cantone said the company will feature four themes for spring: Flower Child, White Hot, Bazaar and Paradise.

"Stretch lace will continue to play an important part as well as georgette prints, silk jersey and stretch viscose jersey," said Cantone.

"For Natori White Label we are offering more cottons and jerseys than ever before. It’s all about comfort and versatility for the modern woman," continued Cantone. "Josie is all about play. The prints are all mix and match and colors play into each other. Cruz will continue to capitalize on key items at key price points in all fabrications."Stan Herman, designer of robes and at-homewear that bears his name at Kellwood Co., said: "We are not just a chenille house anymore. We now have a pool of items that will continue to pull buyers into the showroom."

Debbie Long, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Kellwood’s intimate apparel division, said the Stan Herman collection now includes knitted seersucker, waffle-pattern knits, jacquard and stretch baby-cotton terry, printed-and-striped cotton terry, and wovens that have plissé effects and shadow stripes. There also is a capsule group of retro chenille robes.

"We’ve given the line an updated, contemporary flair," Long said. "We are attempting to make items appropriate for a working woman’s lifestyle."

David Komar, senior vice president of marketing at Charles Komar & Sons, said: "We are expecting a lot of retailers and we’ll be showing all of our spring offerings in all of our [sleepwear] collections."

Komar said a junior sleepwear line called Planet Sleep has been "totally revamped with a focus on fashion and fun" in cotton and spandex novelty fabrics. The traditional Aria line has been modified with updated looks, expanded colors and additional fabrics like cotton interlock, softly brushed cotton knits and French cotton terry.

"Spring will be a very big season for our [licensed] Eileen West collection, because she does so well with cotton lawn," Komar said. "We’ve decided to start advertising Eileen West, and our first ad will be in Vogue in September."

Peter Cooper, vice president of daywear at Lady Ester Corp., said: "So far, business seems to be moving well for us. We have had numerous voice mail messages from buyers asking for increased quantities for September and October deliveries. We are experiencing a strong basic daywear business and also what we call seductivewear — baby dolls, and anything with lace and embroideries. If something looks like it has value, people are buying it."

Karen Grill, design director of daywear at Lady Ester, said a number of new silhouettes and fabrics will be unveiled in the Je T’Adore line: a bridal group of teddys and baby dolls of sheer laces and chiffon; pastel chiffons with metallic embroideries, and animal-printed chiffons with bright-colored embroideries. There also will be camis with built-in fiberfill cups and coordinating panties of microfiber, she said.Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising for Movie Star Inc., said a new contemporary line of sleepwear, daywear and at-homewear called Movie Star Knits is targeted to a consumer base he described as "in the middle — not misses’, not junior." Key items include woven and knit tops and bottoms, chemises and updated sleep dresses.

"We think there will be some very heavy attendance at this market because retailers are looking for newness. Three major buying offices have already told us they are looking for merchandise that is not aimed at the misses’ or junior customer," said Radziminsky. "We’ll also be adding lounge dresses and two-piece sets and other fabrics like rayon and gauze.""""

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