Picking Up the Pieces After Tough Yule

NEW YORK — Following a dismal Christmas selling season, innerwear vendors are waiting on pins and needles for the results of this week’s market.<br><br>While overall apparel sales were said to be lackluster, lingerie sales were generally...

NEW YORK — Following a dismal Christmas selling season, innerwear vendors are waiting on pins and needles for the results of this week’s market.

This story first appeared in the January 6, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While overall apparel sales were said to be lackluster, lingerie sales were generally off by 15 to 30 percent against a year ago, according to several major department store retailers. Because of this deficit, a big question being asked by manufacturers is how much have budgets been slashed for transitional, back-to-school and early fall 2003.

Vendors said even though they have had premarket conversations with retailers, the outlook is uncertain.

The good news is that daywear, from fashion items such as printed mesh camis to classic pieces like soft and pliable underwear of cotton and Lycra spandex, continue to drive the lion’s share of business in innerwear departments, according to retailers and manufacturers.

Contrary to the big push toward fashion colors this summer and fall, the general mentality over the holiday period has been to buy basic items for the long term in traditional colors, including white, black, nude and light blue and pink.

Vendors generally agree that sleepwear business has been humdrum, with the exception of items such as supersoft microfleece pajamas, softly brushed warmwear separates and fluffy spa-inspired terry robes. Looks with a contemporary flavor that can double as ready-to-wear in prints or solids also have continued to be a key area.

The bad news is whatever didn’t sell in November and December — most notably upscale bras for $150 or more and coordinating panties for $80 to $100, as well as luxury items like cashmere robes that typically are tagged at $1,500, and silk chiffon peignoir sets listed at $125 and up — have lagged behind.

The same fate continues to impact the promotional national bra brand business, which is floundering despite the ongoing day-in, day-out specials of “Buy One, Get Two Free” promos at deeply discounted prices.

Greg Holland, executive vice president of branded sales at Charles Komar & Sons, said: “Sure, there’s some doom and gloom out there. The attitude is that it’s not going to be great, but retailers are taking care of current business and putting it behind them.

“A lot of sales plans have been slashed over the past couple of seasons,” he continued, “but I think there will be a leveling off. Now, they’re coming in to look at new product.”

Holland noted that January, along with March and August, are among the “three most important markets for us because they cover three deliveries. At this market, we’ll be showing fall-holiday 2003 deliveries for June 25 through Aug. 25 deliveries.

“Lighter-weight fabrics, particularly microfibers, will be important throughout all of our brand presentations,” he said.

Todd DeMakos, chief executive officer of St. Eve, said, “I think a main problem will be that budgets will be cut. But surprisingly, our goods retailed pretty good for the holidays, especially daywear. Sleepwear, though, has definitely slowed down. Placement for sleepwear has been lower than a year ago and sleepwear business is down about 15 to 20 percent. But where we did have significant placement at a national chain, sell-throughs were 80 to 90 percent.”

DeMakos said best-selling sleepwear classifica-tions were microfleece, brushed cottons of 5-by-2 rib patterns and warmwear items. “Flannels didn’t sell very well because they were not warm enough,” he added.

Kathy Nedorostek, president and chief operating officer of Natori Co, said despite the sluggish retail climate, 2002 “was an outstanding year for the Natori, Josie and Cruz labels.”

“The business was fueled by being able to deliver the key trends within major categories at the right time,” she said. “We do not see this trend softening.”

Nedorostek said the outlook for the January market will “continue to be very positive due to coming off a very strong fourth quarter. The newness will be in the sleepwear, at-homewear and daywear categories.”

She said “the difference” will be the mixing of fabrics in sleepwear, primarily knits, while the at-homewear category will be taken to “the next level” with a fresh assortment of fabric blends.

“A lot of smaller specialty stores that came in November didn’t spend anything because they were waiting to see how holiday business would shape up,” said Sheila Solomon, national sales manager of Priamo Designs. “Most of the smaller operations only made their figures the last five days before Christmas.”

Solomon said the January market will “spread out over the entire month, mainly because other accessories and ready-to-wear shows will be taking place and lingerie boutiques are selling more than lingerie.”

Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said, “We’re expecting the market to be active. It’s the biggest market of the year for us because we do seasonal sleepwear. Daywear business has been on fire for us, while sleepwear business was just OK. Budgets have been slashed for eight weeks.

“We don’t know what retailers will be doing at market. Some will re-examine mixes. They’ll definitely be looking for something new and different,” he said.

Victor Lee, president of NAP Inc., said, “Everyone is coming into market and we have a full slate Monday through Friday. The preliminary word is that a number of our sleepwear and robes did pretty well during Christmas, but at-homewear was the real highlight.”

Lee said the company will unveil two new licensed collections: Bill Blass Lifestyle, which will feature sleepwear and at-homewear, and Dockers Intimates, which will feature daywear, as well as sleepwear and at-homewear.

Jim Noble, senior vice president of Jockey brand merchandising, said the concept of Simple Comfort daywear by Jockey of cotton and Lycra was introduced in November, and the “comfort factor pushed Jockey’s business during the Christmas season.

“We are expecting new products like Simple Comfort and our new Smooth Countour bra to drive the January market,” he said.

Deliveries of Smooth Contour, which is available in underwire and soft-cup styles of microfiber, will be expanded in February.

Karen Neuburger, designer of the sleepwear line that bears her name, said at-homewear items she calls “young sweats” in updated silhouettes have turned out to be her top-selling idea. Key fabrics are velours of cotton and polyester in colors such as heather gray, green, charcoal and burgundy.

“We were nervous before the holidays, but we planned pajama parties at 850 department store doors and were featured on Oprah’s “Favorite Things” show. Because of that it turned out to be a great Christmas for us,” Neuburger said.

Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs, said, “Our mission is to create things with a lot of newness. The goal for the Carole Hochman line was to look modern without losing the comfort that Carole Hochman customers want. We have a lot of new print ideas but in darker grounds and cozy fabrics like microfibers.”

In the licensed Oscar de la Renta navy label and pink label sleepwear collections, Hochman said, “We’ve used a lot of Oscar’s embroidered techniques and styling. We are calling it casual elegance, with ideas like velvet trims and cozy microlinings under charmeuse.”

Randi Forte, national sales manager for Fernando Sanchez, said, “Everybody is looking for something new and fresh, and we are looking forward to showing retailers Fernando’s new fabrics, such as silk and cotton knits, silk cashmere and new silk prints for spring and fall ’03.”