NEW YORK -- A growing base of younger consumers who want just a bit of toning for their figures is helping to keep the bodyshapers business at least on a par with last year.
For fall, selling in the category is generally expected to be split into two areas: updated firm-control items for aging baby boomers and sleek light-to-medium fashion items aimed at women under 40.
Several manufacturers say bodyshapers are generating sales gains of between 20 and 30 percent over a year ago. In some cases, vendors note that business has more than doubled.
Retailers are also upbeat about the category as a small but healthy business that's managed to hold its own after gaining new prominence about four years ago. That happened with the introduction of the Hipslip by Bodyslimmers, a modernized version of a control bottom. Some retailers see a potential for growth come fall, as they bring in new ideas from a core group of resources.
At the innerwear market for late fall and spring set for Aug. 1-5, foundations makers are planning line extensions of firm-control styles, and some will introduce new groups of lighter-weight control items.
Robin Suvoy, administrator of foundations and sleepwear at Macy's East, said updated, light-control shapewear aimed at younger women is the fastest-growing segment of Macy's shapewear business.
Suvoy singled out three vendors in this area: Bali, Warner's and Vanity Fair.
Kim Anderson-Curry, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue, noted, "We recently did a whole analysis on shapewear, and sales have been fairly even."
Anderson-Curry said her most successful shapewear vendor is Smoothie by Strouse, Adler, a resource that Saks used for the first time this spring.
"We are looking to expand Smoothie for fall due to its success with us," said Anderson-Curry.
"Control shapewear has always been very important for us," said Paula McManus, buyer of foundations at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich. "We've seen the biggest influence in medium-control, lighter-weight-looking garments. The Jacobson's customer primarily is the aging baby boomer who needs a little help, but wants pretty and young-looking shapewear."McManus singled out shapewear by Valentino Intimo as the top designer brand.
Among vendors, Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group, stated: "Our Warner's and Olga control shapewear is growing 20 percent a year."
The items leading Warner's shape-wear business are a firm-control brief called Simply Perfect, a light- and medium-control lace brief, and a light- and medium-control brief called The End, in a nylon and Lycra spandex satin-finish blend. The lace numbers and The End have molded bottoms.
Suddenly Slim is Olga's top number; it has a hangtag that says the brief takes one inch off the tummy.
Al Kniberg, president and chief operating officer of Strouse, Adler, said, "Over the last three months versus a year ago, our shapewear business is up 105 percent. Over the past year, our bra and shapewear business has been evenly balanced, but we expect shapers to account for 60 percent of our total business this fall."
In addition to consumer demand, Kniberg said he believes shapewear business generally is healthy because "major department stores and specialty stores are trying to take back that business from the mass merchandisers."
Joyce Baran, vice president of design and merchandising at Strouse, Adler, observed, "Interestingly enough, sales of shapers are as strong in smaller sizes as they are in larger sizes. That's because the items target specific trouble areas."
The two newest control items for August will be Short Cut, a firm control brief with a tummy panel, wholesaling for $8.51, and Beyond Backless, a light-control body briefer that has a built-in underwire bra and dips below the waist. It wholesales for $15.75.
Jay Greenblatt, president of the Trueform Foundations unit of Maidenform, said, "Fashion looks have been nicely received in moderate-weight styles, but when you talk about the heart of the business, it's functional firm-control that's had the greatest growth for us."
Greenblatt noted that the firm-control classification -- primarily updated traditional control bodysuits and briefs -- is expected to generate a sales gain of 30 percent for fall. Overall, he said, a sales gain of 20 percent is projected in 1994 in total shapewear business over the prior year.But while firm control rules at Trueform, Greenblatt said two medium-weight control groups by Flexees and Subtract will be introduced in August.
"We're doing so well with firm control that we need to expand into other weights," said Greenblatt. "We're trying to get the woman in her 30s who wants a little reshaping."
Jack Salisbury, general manager of the Vanity Fair brand at Vanity Fair Mills, said two styles of firm-control briefs will be part of the national retail launch of its Body Sleeks seamless bra program in August. One light-control brief will be added for spring selling.
"I think the control briefs will be a sleeper. The briefs will hang in foundations departments with the bras in coordinated colors," said Salisbury, noting that shapewear's rarely merchandised with bras.
The two styles of control briefs under the Body Sleeks label -- a high-cut and full brief -- wholesale for $6.75 and $7.65, respectively.
At Maidenform, Bruce Getz, vice president of merchandising, said the company's newest control item in August will be a banded medium-control brief of nylon and Lycra styled to look like a cotton panty.
"The control brief is directed at a younger woman who has a good figure, but needs a little help around the tummy," said Getz. "Cotton panties are perfect for every day, but not when a woman is wearing a tight knit dress or jeans."
Maidenform's new control brief will come in a high-cut style and a full brief style, each wholesaling for $6.58. It will be part of Maidenform's All the Time seamless bra and panties group, and will come in coordinating fashion colors and black and white.
Nancy Ganz, designer and owner of Bodyslimmers, said: "I thought I would come up with a ButtBooster control item in August that will go with my BustBooster bra," Ganz said the current push-up padded bra phenomenon gave her the idea for a control brief that will be constructed and seamed to lift the derriere. A wholesale price hasn't been set.
In August, Ganz further noted that she plans to add an ankle-length version of her Gorgeous Dress, a firm-control slipdress of nylon and Lycra layered in sheer nylon, as well as additional styles of light- and medium-control slipdresses embellished with laces, satins or velvets.
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