By  on April 4, 2005

NEW YORK — The ordering for fall was brisk at the Lingerie Americas trade show, but the tone of the March market was underscored by uncertainty over the pending merger of Federated Department Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co.

The main topic of conversation at Madison Avenue showrooms and exhibitor stands was how retail consolidation will affect large and small suppliers. For the most part, manufacturers said they are trying to size up how they will fit into an evolving retail environment.

As Elaine Lee, president and chief operating officer of Richard Leeds International, said, “With the Federated-May merger, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns out there. The question is who has the pencil to drive the business. So people are being apprehensive on how it will play out in the second half of the year.”

Todd Demakos, chief executive officer of St. Eve International, said, “There’s a lot of apprehension, especially when you start reading about raiders circling Penney’s. I don’t blame people for being cautious and not wanting to talk right now because they don’t know if what they say will affect their [retail] client.”

The traditional market week schedule was stretched into a three-week event, beginning here with Federated and culminating with visits to St. Louis-based May. Manufacturers said reaction was strong to new ideas, giftable items and to styles with a ready-to-wear look.

“The novelty business is good and we’ve had good response to holiday items with marabou and a lot of Lurex in our seductivewear category,’’ said Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc. “We’ve also added ballet-length gowns, bras and panties that coordinate with baby dolls and bustiers, and that’s been well received by customers who buy total collections.”

Radziminsky said three-piece folded pajamas for holiday selling was a strong area.

“We are doing a nice business with print-driven, three-piece folded pajamas which we did not do at department stores last year,” he said. “We’ve received orders for substantial quantities from six different retailers, mostly private label with a couple taking the Cinema Etoile brand.”Sleepwear also booked well, he said, citing lace-trimmed knits and an ultrasoft jersey of polyester, nylon and spandex.

 “We had a great market,’’ said Carole Hochman, chairman and design director of the Carole Hochman Group. “We didn’t show anything new and we continued showing fall, but people reacted very well to flannel pajamas and loungy things by Betsey Johnson that are very giftable. We call it Cozy Betsey.”

Seth Morris, president of the Hochman firm, said, “Everybody was focused on product, looking for newness. The market was successful for us because of the continued interest in the power of our Lauren Ralph Lauren brand and the response to the shift to Betsey Johnson sleepwear from daywear.”

Morris said bookings were strong for Carole Hochman sleepwear focused on detailing such as Venise laces and multicolor embroideries, and Stan Herman robes and loungewear in its second season at Hochman.

“The demand for luxury merchandise is stronger than we’ve experienced in three years,’’ said Victor Lee, president of NAP Inc. “It was a great market at our Madison Avenue showrooms and Lingerie Americas, where we had five booths.”

Lee said cashmere robes by English label Derek Rose were ordered, as well as Swarovski-embellished bodysuits by Argentovivo, an Italian brand. The robes wholesale for $1,650 and bodysuits are $800.

Lee added that bookings were on plan for Dockers loungewear, Anne Lewin robe, and private label programs with such specialty stores as Victoria’s Secret and Soma by Chico’s.

“The trend is now more rtw driven,’’ said designer Ying Li. “For me, the idea of wearing my hand-painted silk camis with jeans has been very successful. Retailers are now much more willing to try bold rtw colors and prints, and I opened 20 new accounts at the Lingerie Americas show.”

Kathy Weck, senior vice president at Richard Leeds, said a “balance of soft, feminine pretty looks and whimsical, amusing characters” topped bookings.

“Ski pajamas in wonderful lightweight flannels with characters such as Tinker Bell and Tweety, and Bambi with sayings like ‘Oh Deer,’ were very strong,” Weck said.She said reaction was also strong to a contemporary sleep set of soft microfiber and chiffon by French Jenny.

From a foundation executive’s perspective, Manette Scheininger, senior vice president of marketing, merchandising and design at Maidenform Inc., said, “Right now the trend is comfort and shape, but it has to look pretty. From the inside it’s a very functional bra, but from the outside it’s a pretty bra.”

Scheininger said two ideas by Maidenform received “great” reaction: a front-close One Fabulous Fit bra and the launch of the Dream Bra, which is rendered in “one fluid piece” with built-up shoulder straps, a sweetheart neckline, a patented underwire channel and two-ply sides with no abrasive elastic.

Anne DiGiovanna, vice president of marketing at The Warnaco Group, said two new bra groups by Warner’s have been well received: Whisperlites, which provide “great shape without the weight” in two flexible, easy-to-fit styles, and Lace Tuxedo, an underwire lace style with foam contour cups.

Regarding the full-figure customer, DiGiovanna said reaction was strong to two bras by Olga Signature Support that feature “four points of comfort:” a soft seal hook-and-eye; soft and comfortable microfiber straps and elastics; no-poke wires and a comfort back, and non-slip straps.

“For JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez, our strategy is to introduce three new fall collections and continue our emphasis on core bra groups,” she said. “Building upon the success of our robes in JLo Lingerie, we’re enhancing the robes for holiday with the addition of a shaggy sleep sock gift with purchase

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