NEW YORK — Last week’s fall-holiday market exceeded expectations, as retailers and manufacturers geared up for more solid action following an upswing in holiday and first-quarter lingerie business.

Some firms cited January and February increases of 5 to 10 percent against a year ago. While the hunt for new creative product and ideas was on, it became a balancing act for a number of buyers to canvas an increasingly larger market with several venues.

In addition to appointments at Madison Avenue showrooms, there also were three trade shows around Manhattan: Lingerie Americas at the Altman Building and Metropolitan Pavilion, Intima America at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and the Fashion Coterie at The Show Piers on the Hudson River, where a number of lingerie resources showed their wares.

The week also was highlighted by several industry parties that included the opening of the Felina and Jezebel showroom and offices at 12 West 32nd Street, the unveiling of the Cosabella showroom at 180 Madison Avenue and the annual Femmy Awards gala at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, which pulled in more than 800 retailers and industry executives.

Despite the marathon between locations, retailers generally said they found what they were looking for, including:

  • Nonstop color and prints running the gamut, from cosmetic pales, earth tones and jewel tones to Seventies-inspired brights, as well as romantic oversized florals, paisleys and graphics, and sprays of floral bouquets and leaves.

  • Young contemporary product that has a sophisticated edge, from resources such as Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Lola C., Loungewear Betty, French Jenny, Leigh Bantivoglio, Myla, Sarah Fisk, Andres Sarda, Le Caprice de Marie and Lucky Brand at Charles Komar & Sons. Market newcomers included adam+eve, Betsey Johnson at Carole Hochman Designs and JLo by Jennifer Lopez at The Warnaco Group.

  • Dual-purpose at-homewear pieces that have a casual sportswear flavor in feel-good Lycra spandex blends with cotton or modal, Polarfleece and brushed-back satin that are softly tailored from vendors such as Cruz by Natori, Nautica, Tart, Fernando Sanchez and JLo by Jennifer Lopez.

  • The item robe, whether it’s a one-of-a-kind embroidered number by Natori Black Label, a luxurious hand-painted style by Ying Li, or a whimsical faux-fur-trimmed wrap by French Kitty at Charles Komar.
  • What vendors are calling seductivewear: saucy marabou-trimmed teddies and baby dolls with matching G-strings by Cinema Etoile; heavily embellished fairy tale-inspired bras and thongs by Felina, and textured ultrasheer mesh camis, panties and chemises by Cosabella.

Retailers generally won’t be finalizing orders until late March, but the buoyant mood was prevalent among major store executives, as well as smaller specialty store buyers.

Kristen Henson, sleepwear buyer at Carson Pirie Scott, said, “Things are definitely looking brighter and we’re very hopeful. I’m looking for special product in knits and warmwear.”

Henson singled out P.Jamas as a brand she “loved.”

Taylor Summit, owner of Dani, a specialty lingerie store in the Americana Shopping Center in Manhasset, N.Y., who was in the midst of ordering Betsey Johnson intimates, said, “I think it’s great that young women are getting back to more feminine and sweet-looking lingerie. It’s so much nicer than all of the S&M stuff and the colors are great. We’ve been inundated with black and white for so long.”

Randi Backsall, owner of Joie de Vivre, a lingerie shop that specializes in hard-to-find sizes in Newtown, Pa., said, “This time last year we were just starting to see a number of changes. I’m going into this market with a little more comfort level.”

Backsall added that instead of focusing on a wide range of brands, she is “focusing this year on best-performing brands and trying to diversify more with one company.”

Stocking bra cup sizes from 32A to 44H, she said her top-selling brands are Chantelle, Fantasie of England, Aubade and the Renaissance collection by Le Mystere.

Polly Berg, owner of the lingerie boutique that bears her name in Wayzata, Minn., said, “I’m definitely looking for more upscale product. That’s what has been selling. I really liked Louis Féraud sleepwear and loungewear in silks. It was very chic and luxe looking, and Natori had some extremely nice product. I also thought the Betsey Johnson line was cute. We could cultivate a younger customer with that.”

Regarding overall business, Berg said, “We had a lot of snow in January, which was not too good for business. But we had some spring-like weather in February and sales picked up 46 percent.”From a manufacturer’s perspective, Ray Nadeau, president of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel for the U.S. and Canada, stated: “There are a lot of smiles on people’s faces because they had a better Christmas than they thought they would. Retailers across the board are seeing a good February and are ahead of February, prior year.”

Nadeau said the general sentiment is: “If we can hold this momentum with a better business matrix, we’re probably going to come out of this better than expected.”

Nadeau noted that Sara Lee’s core intimate apparel businesses, including Playtex, “is viewed as a real innovator,” with new product by Thank Goodness It Fits and Playtex’s 18 Hour Bra, as well as Bali, which he described as a “much stronger player in the full-figure [bra] arena with point-of-sale trends.” A series of events are being planned for the 10th anniversary of the Wonderbra label, he said.

David Komar, senior vice president of marketing at Charles Komar, said, “We’ve had one of the better markets I can remember. Retailers are much more optimistic about intimate apparel and everyone seems to be opening up. We expect fall to be 30 percent ahead of a year ago in all of our brands. I think the market has generally been good for a lot of people.”

Komar said he felt the renewed vitality in the market was the perfect timing to refresh the firm’s showrooms and reception area, which have been redone in earth tones with white leather and silver chrome chairs.

“We wanted to reflect the unique blend of our brands and focus on our next generation of customers,” said Komar, noting that an amusing pink and black soft shop concept with a wet bar has been set up for the licensed French Kitty brand, and a kitsch rock ’n’ roll-Santa Fe area has been dedicated to the licensed Lucky Brand intimates.

Another licensee, Eileen West sleepwear and at-homewear, also has its own environment to reflect the romantic statement of West’s designs, with a combination of contemporary furnishings and vintage lamps and mirrors.

“We moved away from boy bashing and went after female empowerment, a lot of verbiage prints like ‘It’s All About Me’ and ‘Chicks Rule,’ and 3-D details in our David and Goliath [sleepwear] line,” said Holly Price, national sales manager, department stores and national chains at Richard Leeds International. “Buyers needed something they could sink their teeth into and not be duplicated. We were bold in-your-face with high characters like Betty Boop, Tinkerbell and Pussyfoot. Retailers really liked the very girly details like velvet trims and flocking.”Remi Porthault, president of Porthault NA, the U.S. operation of the French luxury bedding and home accessories company, said the first collection of semisheer cotton voile sleepwear was well received at the Lingerie Americas trade show. Distribution in the U.S. will be aimed at a selective number of upscale stores, as well as freestanding Porthault units, he said.

“We were really here to listen to people, make contacts and read the market,” said Porthault, noting that the firm plans to open a second Porthault store in the U.S. at the end of March in the Island Park Village in Dallas.

This launch will be followed by a store opening in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in April. The family-owned company currently has two stores in Paris, one unit here on Madison Avenue and sells its products to an international network of hotels and spas.

“We are planning to open seven or eight stores in the U.S. within the next two years,” said Porthault.

Maurizio Muccigrosso, export manager for Roberto Cavalli intimates, said, “We opened more than 40 new accounts with specialty stores at this market. I think the Roberto Cavalli name has made it here in the U.S. Roberto Cavalli believes very much in the U.S. market — so much so that the entire advertising budget for all product categories has been increased 50 percent this year.”

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