NEW YORK -- Size obviously counts when it comes to the plus-size lingerie and apparel business.Whether it was intimate apparel, ready-to-wear or sportswear, plus sizes was the only apparel category to "buck the trend" in 2001, with a unit-share increase of over 4 percent, while overall apparel sales slid 6 percent, said Marshal Cohen, president of NPD Fashionworld.That was the latest news from Cohen, who was a surprise speaker at a recent seminar on full-figure intimates hosted here by the Underfashion Club at the New York Helmsley Hotel.Cohen, who heads the Port Washington, N.Y.-based consumer marketing firm, told an audience of more than 125 innerwear and retail executives that five other sectors produced gains in 2001: toys and video games, which surged 11 percent; housewares, up 9 percent; the food and restaurant business, ahead 8 percent, and the electronics and furniture areas, each of which rose 4 percent.Cohen also noted that total innerwear sales last year accounted for $12 billion of overall apparel sales at retail in the U.S. The share of full-figure intimates has remained unchanged at about one-third of the market, accounting for 32 percent in 2001 and 31 percent in 2001. The most popular bra size in America is a 36C, he said. Full-figure bra sizes are generally the 32C to 38DDD cup range.The top three retailers to claim the lion's share of full-figure intimate apparel business in unit share were Wal-Mart, Kmart and Lane Bryant. In dollar share, the leading retailers were Wal-Mart, Lane Bryant and Victoria's Secret. Of the top 10 bra brands at national chains in 2001 -- which included Vanity Fair, Bali, Playtex, Olga and Wacoal -- seven were full-figure styles, he said."It means either full-figure is driving the [bra] business, or it means there needs to be more full-figure products," said Cohen.He further noted that dollar share of plus-size apparel and intimates in 2001 were each about the same in the 35-to-54 age range, constituting slightly more than 40 percent of the total plus-size market.Meanwhile, Dianne Casey, design director of Delta U.S.A., the American unit of Delta Galil, moderated a workshop that featured a consumer panel of eight full-figured women who discussed their preferences and spending habits regarding lingerie.The overriding message from the women, who represented ages 16 to 50, was that they want comfort. But they unanimously agreed that fashion colors and styling was equally important. Most of the panelists said they would be willing to pay $40 or more for a bra if it was stylish as well as functional. They said they would buy several bras at a time if the bras featured all of these qualities.The main stores the panelists said they preferred to shop for intimates were The Avenue, Lane Bryant and Macy's."

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