By  on March 17, 1994

NEW YORK -- Playtex and Gossard are taking the Bra Wars from Britain to the U.S..

The clash over cleavage began to take shape Tuesday when Gossard introduced its new Super-Uplift bras at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship with a barrage of ballyhoo.

Playtex, a division of innerwear giant Sara Lee Intimates, plans to introduce its competing Wonderbra -- an established breast-booster in the U.K. -- to the U.S. by May 1.

Gossard -- a British foundations division of Courtaulds Textiles PLC -- had produced the Wonderbra in the U.K. for 25 years under license from Playtex Apparel. The license was taken back by Playtex at last year, as part of Playtex's campaign to build its market share in the U.K. Sales of the Wonderbra were $15 million in the U.K. last year.

To fill the void, Gossard developed the Super-Uplift bra, which has been on sale in Europe since January and has been wear-tested in the U.K. for 18 months, according to Gossard.

At the Saks event -- predictably covered by news cameras -- 100 of the Super-Uplift bras were given away to 100 customers who presented mailers. The store had sent out 2,000 such mailers, and the bras were dispensed on a first-come, first-served basis between 10 a.m. and noon.

When the store opened at 10 a.m., about a dozen women seeking what Gossard calls "miracle cleavage" had already queued up in front of one of Saks' express elevators. The Saks promotion was preceded by preview selling of the bras over the weekend.

Over a four-day period through Tuesday, 200 of the Wonderbras were sold, according to Kim Anderson-Curry, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.

"It's an excellent response, and we'll be doing the same promotion in Beverly Hills this Friday," she said.

The Super-Uplift comes in three styles, all padded, and all in nylon and elastane. The best-selling of the three so far is a lace-trimmed push-up number that provides what Gossard calls a "super-duper uplift" and wholesales for $19.75.

Mark Pilkington, Gossard's marketing director, who traveled here from the U.K. for the launch, said the firm's breast-enhancing styling works because the bras are "very deeply plunged, have extra firm underwires, and feature vertically angled cups that push the breasts up together."Another push-up number is a scoopneck style that gives a rounder bosom and wholesales for $24.75. Colors for those two styles are black, white, pearl, navy and raspberry. Cup sizes start at 32A and go to 38C and 36D. The third bra, called a designer style, features gold embroidery on black with a ready-to-wear look and wholesales for $34.75.

The line includes two briefs. One coordinates with the deep-plunge and scoopneck styles and wholesales for $11. The other goes with with the designer style and wholesales for $19.75. A bodyshaper with lace-trimmed cups wholesales for $39.75.

The annual ad budget for the U.S. hasn't been made final, said Pilkington, but he noted that Courtaulds is investing $8 million for a European print and TV ad campaign this year. In the U.S., initial distribution of the Super-Uplift will be limited to 100 doors, Pilkington said, with Saks the major account. Saks at present is carrying all the styles, except the designer number and its brief.

At Playtex, Paul Mischinski, president of Sara Lee Foundations, said distribution of the Wonderbra in the U.S. would be limited initially to three styles.

Full distribution to major department and specialty stores is slated for fall. The three Wonderbra styles will each retail for approximately $23.

There also will be a "comprehensive multi-million-dollar national marketing campaign" that will include advertising and point-of-sale materials," Mischinski said. Details of the campaign are still to be worked out.

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