PARIS — Orcanta Lingerie, a 64-unit chain of boutiques owned by Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, is a fast-growing but low-profile line of business of the French retail and apparel conglomerate.

The quiet strategy sits well with Luc Fersing, president of the Orcanta specialty operation, who said the lingerie chain has consistently generated annual sales increases of 15 percent for the past several years, totaling overall sales in excess of $60 million in 2002.

The biggest burst of growth for the 17-year-old lingerie specialist came in 1997, when 26 units were opened in France in one year. Now, the company, whose stores are based exclusively in France, is evaluating the prospects of expanding into other countries.

But at a time when the retail environment and economy is challenging worldwide, Fersing said, “We still want to cultivate a much stronger position in France before looking outside.”

He said part of that expansion involves the development of categories such as sleepwear bearing the Orcanta label, a move initiated in 1996. Today, sleepwear is a fast-growing classification of store assortments that can be cross-merchandised with fashion-forward foundations and daywear by Orcanta in coordinating colors and prints, said Fersing at the flagship shop at rue Halévy, facing the Place de l’Opera.

“We started Orcanta sleepwear because we discovered that consumers could not find famous brand-name nightwear in France, just corsetry,” said Fersing. “Sleepwear is fast becoming a major item in France, even though bras account for 50 percent of the total [intimates] market.”

Fersing credited a “new, modern approach” to Orcanta’s success with sleepwear, noting that sleepwear in France typically is “too traditional looking.” Best-selling sleepwear styles at Orcanta reflect key items in the U.S. market such as novelty printed drawstring pajama pants of woven cotton and cotton knit that are sold as separate items and can be mixed and matched with a variety of tops.

A majority of the sleepwear styles are contemporary, dual-purpose and ready-to-wear-inspired. He described the category as addressing two lifestyle needs: comfort for sleepwear and seduction for at-homewear pieces.

Although the Orcanta name is the hallmark of the shops’ image, Fersing said the chain also focuses on a consistent number of high-profile status brands, including Lejaby, Chantal Thomass, Lise Charmel, Morgan and Wacoal, which offers a specialized assortment of bra styles for the European market.The company recently reintroduced the young, contemporary Passionatta bra label, mainly because Orcanta has developed a following of consumers 25 years of age and younger, he said.

“About 25 percent of our customers are now under 25,” Fersing said. “We’ve discovered that this younger shopper spends 35 percent more than the average customer.”

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