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NEW YORK — Talk about being politically incorrect.
This story first appeared in the February 6, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The second edition of the annual Lane Bryant lingerie fashion show Tuesday night, called “The Grand Cabaret,” was a Mulligan’s stew of showgirls, a rendition of Danse Sauvage from “Le Jazz Hot” period, the rock tune “Papa Don’t Preach” performed by Kelly Osbourne and a controversial dialogue by mistress of ceremonies Roseanne.
According to numerous consumer surveys, the plus-size woman is fashion conscious and proud of her figure, but she is inherently sensitive to issues dealing with weight and girth. Roseanne, a robust women, not only chose to knock larger sizes, but hit a few other hot buttons, which alienated a number of guests.
As French melodies and American show tunes filled the air at the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center, Roseanne, dressed in her interpretation of a sultry German cabaret star of the 1930s in black corset, cropped pants, stiletto heels and a top hat, was apparently trying to be funny. But the most obvious raison d’etre of the evening — how fashion and lingerie can be aspirational goals for full-figured women — was not addressed.
Instead, the off-color comic started her shtick with, “Any group of people here gay? Any Jews? Any fat people? I’m the queen of all fat people.”
Roseanne then went on to describe how thrilled she was that Lane Bryant had selected a cabaret theme, saying, “I’m still a big fan of the Nazi era. I watch the Hitler channel 24/7.” She then made an obtuse reference to the “Boys from Brazil,” about “Odessa people and where they escaped to in South America, or something…For years I was consumed by hatred. Nazis — I’m really into those boots.”
Few people laughed. A woman in the audience asked what the show has to do with Nazis and Jews? A Lane Bryant spokeswoman said Wednesday, “This year’s show was intended to be an eclectic mix of talent, theatre, music and fashion in the style of European cabarats of the Twenties and Thirties, but with…2003-style twists. As all good Emcees, Roseanne kept the show going with a mix of edgy wit and mystery in her own inimitable style to celebrate plus-size women.”
Meanwhile, the kaleidoscope spectacle where close to 1,000 guests ogled scantily clad full-figured models sizes 14, 16 and more, pranced down the runway to a thundering disco beat in a themeless mix of dominatrix-inspired corsets, sheer and satin bras, string bikinis, transparent baby dolls and peignoirs, and in some cases, the tiniest of thongs.
The show was headlined by a tattooed Mia Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Among the other celebrities were Tyson Beckford, Tommy Tune, and Star Jones of ABC’s “The View.”
“I’ve been wearing Lane Bryant from head to ankle for years,” said Jones, showing off a denim jacket she bought for $39.99. “I took it to my friend Dennis Basso to have it lined in golden sable and sheared mink.”
Diane Missel, president of the Lane Bryant division of Charming Shoppes, said: “Lingerie is a very important business for us. It probably represents 20 percent of our entire business and we see it having lots of potential as a growth category.”
However, on Tuesday, Charming Shoppes warned that its 2004 earnings would fall well short of expectations, citing the continuing soft performance of Lane Bryant. Charming bought 650 Lane Bryant units from Limited Inc. in July 2001 for $335 million in cash and stock. Recently, the division has proven to be CS’s weakest link, facing declining sales and traffic. Lane Bryant’s December comps fell 13 percent, contributing to the firm’s 7 percent decline for the month.
Lane Bryant sells lingerie bearing the Cacique label. Asked if Lane Bryant expects to take lingerie market share now that Express stores is dropping the category, Missel replied: “Mast [a sourcing division of Limited] said we had an opportunity with Express getting out of the lingerie business, even though it’s not the same sizing or sourcing.