By  on April 30, 2007

NEW YORK — The May market will play a dual role for vendors and retailers, both as a platform for reevaluation of fall and holiday buys and to provide insight into spring 2008.

After a stressful but successful February market, which represented the combined January and March editions for the first time, next week's event will face a key challenge in garnering traffic from smaller specialty stores, a majority of which do not travel to New York so they can stay home to oversee Mother's Day gift purchasing. That was the case in February when some specialty boutique owners and buyers opted to stay in their stores for Valentine's Day business, which stands with Mother's Day as one of the biggest gift-buying holidays for lingerie, sleepwear and robes.

Despite the tough choice for smaller stores, vendors anticipate a small but potent market propelled by major department and specialty stores with buying teams not needed for store operations.

However, the main thrust of manufacturers will be completing fall, holiday and Valentine's Day buys, as well as previewing new concepts and product for spring.

Top items will include:

-- Supersoft blends of Modal and cotton.

-- Interesting lace treatments such as insets and piecing.

-- Feminine touches like ruffles, ruching, inverted pleating and lavish embroideries.

-- Organic cotton.

-- Dual-purpose, dressy at-homewear items, including caftans, tunics, pants and jackets.

Eileen West, whose namesake sleepwear line is produced under license by the Komar Co., said she has "lots of new product" for spring.

"The theme is 'Spring Eternal.' We've added great new fabrics like Modal blends, a Modal French terry that's dreamy soft and 100 percent organic knit cotton," West said. "There will also be lots of pretty hand-painted prints….We've updated our silhouettes quite a bit and added younger-looking styles."

Among West's key silhouettes is a bias-cut sleep gown with spaghetti straps that's been updated with center-front inverted pleats, and "nontraditional" pajamas with cropped pants that don't feature button fronts and are designed with unusual lace insets and lace piecing. Colors in solids and prints include aqua, lilac and magenta.Michelle Clark, senior vice president of merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said, "We will be showing 11/25 through 12/15 deliveries for Cinema Etoile Seductivewear. It's all about Valentine's Day for us. We've always found that, if products look more like Valentine's Day, it sells much better, especially heart prints. We expect big things from this market based on last Valentine's Day sell-throughs."

Clark noted that a successful gift-giving program by Cinema Etoile for holiday selling — a three-piece folded pajama program — will be expanded for Valentine's Day.

"May really is more of a preview market for spring, as well as at-once business with specialty stores," said Neil Mossberg, director of operations at World Marketing Inc., the parent company of the Fernando Sanchez and FS2 sleepwear and loungewear brands. "We'll also do a recap of fashion pieces."

Mossberg, who also serves as president of the Fernando Sanchez business, said distribution of the secondary FS2 line, which is an exclusive at Dillard's until the end of June, will be expanded to other department stores for spring.

"It will allow us to reach a customer who aspired to have Fernando Sanchez products, but couldn't afford it," he said. "We've been approached by several larger mass volume department stores about doing FS2 exclusives."

Jennifer O'Connell, design director of the French Jenny sleepwear brand at Richard Leeds International, said different-looking textured effects will be strong for spring.

"Everything was very textured in Europe when we were there a few weeks ago and you'll see it continuing into spring," she said, noting that French Jenny will feature "a lot of mesh trims, laces and mixing of patterns and fabrics."

The best-selling silhouette at retail currently is the baby doll, while supple jerseys and pointelle rib patterns have been top-booking classifications for fall, she said.

Alison Hessert, communications director for Kayser-Roth, which produces sleepwear, underwear and legwear by Hue, said two sleepwear collections will be shown for November and January deliveries: a "nontraditional Valentine's Day collection and a Coastal collection, which will focus on a nautical theme."

"The Valentine's Day collection by Hue will be fun and feminine, with soft, fluid fabrics and lingerie detailing," Hessert said. "Silhouettes include several styles of chemises, from a triangle top to a feminized racer back."Colors will include red, black, white and a hint of green. Detailing features ruched bows on the sides of boxers, flounces on chemise hems and top sleeves and bow ties and trims on camis, pants hems and scoop necklines.

Regarding the Coastal group, Hessert said: "This is a fresh take on nautical in cornflower blue, sweetheart pink and shots of lime green. It features nautical influences such as anchor icons with a feminine twist, silver thread, rope drawstrings on bottoms and Hue anchor-patch appliqués."

Patterns include hibiscus florals, fish and animal prints, pin dots, large graphic dots and multistripes. Boxers feature contrast print inside waistbands that can be rolled over, she said.

Maria Scotto, designer of the sleepwear label that bears her name, said she doesn't expect a big turnout of smaller specialty stores.

"Because May is not a big market and there will be no organized trade show, I'll be showing my line in a showroom at 152 Madison Avenue," Scotto said. "A majority of shops told me they can't come because of Mother's Day business, which they fear they will lose. Right now, I just have a few appointments. A lot of retailers have asked me why…the Intimate Apparel Council [picked] these market dates this year. They complained in February and they're complaining now. I don't even know what to tell them, except that these dates were selected based on large department store activity."

However, Scotto said she expects several top trends to continue into spring: black lace and black ribbon trim on a solid pastel ground, and ruffles, which she described as "big right now."

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