SARA LEE’S INNER SELF: The Sara Lee Intimate Apparel unit of Sara Lee Corp., is going after Victoria’s Secret with a new chain of stores called Inner Self.

The New Age-designed concept of a spa-like ambience with soothing music, pale colors and free-hand massages is offering women an aspirational alternative of well-being to the saucy image of the Victoria’s Secret stores and fashion shows.

Chicago-based Sara Lee plans to have 10 Inner Self stores open through June. The largest maker of women’s intimate apparel and related items aims to fill a niche that is designed to make the average woman feel comfortable about her body while trying on and purchasing bras and panties as well as shapers. The targeted age group is women 25 to 55, with an average dress size of 12.

The move is seen by industry observers as a way to work around the difficult economy and the sluggish retail climate, particularly at department stores. Higher-margin department store business, which accounts for 10 percent of Sara Lee’s $6.5 billion in yearly apparel sales, has been under increased pressure over the past couple of years. Major stores have faced the tough task of trimming staffs, cutting budgets and implementing cost-effective measures amid heightened competition from discounters.

Victoria’s Secret stores, a $2.4 billion retail unit of Columbus, Ohio-based Intimate Brands Inc., operated more than 1,000 stores in 2002, a huge leap from 670 doors in 1995.

Sara Lee currently has four Inner Self stores, the first of which opened in April 2001 in Raleigh, N.C. Since then, three more boutiques, each averaging 3,500 square feet, have opened in Orlando, Memphis and St. Louis. A store in Chicago is slated to open in late 2003, with a national rollout in the planning stage, according to a Sara Lee spokeswoman.

The majority of items at Inner Self shops are tagged at a suggested retail in the mid-$20 range, slightly below Victoria’s Secret’s range, but at the same price level as department stores. While Sara Lee is known for its successful portfolio of bra brands, which includes Bali, Playtex, Hanes Her Way, Wonderbra and Just My Size, the company is selling bras bearing the Inner Self label. But it is incorporating all of its technological prowess to provide consumers at the fledgling Inner Self stores with the same comfort, fit and function as its core brands.A specialty of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel is full-figure bras, a segment of the foundations business that a number of department stores and Victoria’s Secret have not aggressively marketed or promoted.

JOCKEY’S NEW SET-UP: Ed Emma, president and chief operating officer of Kenosha, Wis.-based Jockey International Inc., has created a new senior level management structure for 2003. The move is designed to focus on the company’s managerial strengths as it leverages its position as a comfort-lifestyle brand.

Bob Nolan has been appointed to the new position of president of Jockey worldwide wholesale and licensing. He was formerly president of the Jockey and designer brands.

In this new role, Emma said Nolan’s responsibilities will include establishing and implementing an integrated business strategy to design, market and distribute Jockey products globally.

John Brody has been promoted to executive vice president of Jockey brand merchandising and sales. He was formerly senior vice president and national sales manager for the Jockey brand and the licensed Liz Claiborne Intimates collection of bras.

The former responsibilities of Nolan and Brody have been absorbed in their new posts.

Michael Lapidus, president of the Jockey retail operation, has been named president of the newly created Jockey Worldwide Consumer direct business. Lapidus will oversee the development of Jockey’s retail businesses around the world. He will continue to manage the efforts of his current retail business unit and staff.

Reporting to Emma will be Nolan, Brody, Lapidus, as well as Frank Schneider, senior vice president, chief financial officer and chief information officer; Jamie Lockard, vice president of marketing and advertising; Peter Hannes, president of Thorobred brands; Ed Gill, senior vice president of customer logistics; Brad Beal, senior vice president of manufacturing and distribution; Mark Jaeger, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, and Mike McDermott, vice president of human resources.

Jim Noble, senior vice president of Jockey brand merchandising, will report to Brody.

In other moves, Jockey has signed a licensing agreement with Costa Mesa, Calif.-based ApparelTex USA Inc. to manufacture a line of men’s and women’s Jockey brand thermalwear. The license had been formerly held by PacBrands USA since 1999.Allan Mackey, who spearheaded the launch of Jockey thermalwear at PacBrands, will serve as president of the new licensee. The fall 2003 line will be shown this week at the Jockey thermalwear showroom at 171 Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

SALON EXPANDS: The Intimate Apparel Salon and its partner, show producer Messe Frankfurt, will be expanding floor space at New York’s Millennium Broadway Hotel for the March 2-4 spring market.

Roland Bleinroth, president of Messe Frankfurt, said an additional floor will be added. He noted that the extra space, which will encompass four floors, "will give our exhibitors the additional room they have been requesting and offer a more open atmosphere for our buyers and visitors to view the exhibitors’ lines."

Another feature off the March edition will be the New Designer Showcase.

In a related development, Messe Frankfurt said it is postponing its Intima Fashion Live trade show, which was scheduled in March in Miami Beach.

"Due to the focus being given to our three [Intimate Apparel Salon] shows in New York this year, we made the decision to direct our attention to these events and take them to a higher level," Bleinroth said. "This will be evident at the expanded show in March, at the largest August show at the North pavilion at the Jacob Javits Center, and in November when we return to the Millennium hotel."

VAN MAR TAPS ALBERT: Van Mar Inc. has named Ronnie Albert national sales manager for the licensed collection of Karen Neuburger Intimates, which was launched in July.

Albert was most recently buyer of shapewear and panties at Sears Roebuck & Co., and held various buying and merchandising posts at Abraham & Strauss and May Merchandising Corp., where she was the market representative for daywear and panties.

Albert reports to Scott Schulman, chairman and chief executive officer of Van Mar.

IASC GETS LUDACRIS: Chronically ill children at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitative Medicine at NYU Medical Center enjoyed a Christmas/Hanukkah party with music and a visit from rapper Ludacris.

The party was hosted by the Intimate Apparel Square Club, which presented the Rusk Institute with a donation of $737,000 to support future treatments for children. Janet Grove, chairman and chief executive officer of Federated Merchandising Group and a recipient of the IASC’s 2002 HUG Award, was the evening’s honoree at a dinner following the kids’ party at Trattoria Alba.

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