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SIL Overcomes Economic Woes

Economic doldrums didn't dampen spirits at the Salon International de la Lingerie and Interfiliere trade fairs that closed here Jan. 27.

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PARIS — Economic doldrums didn’t dampen spirits at the Salon International de la Lingerie and Interfilière trade fairs that closed here Jan. 27.

Following the city’s latest spate of trade show shuffles, Eurovet executives said the next session of SIL will be moved forward by one week next year and is scheduled to run Sunday, Jan. 18 to Wednesday, Jan. 21.

“It’s simply a question of adjusting to the calendar, as we didn’t want the show dates to tip into February,” said Angele Sitbon, head of communications at Eurovet. “Many retailers also said they would like more time to visit the city, so the new dates will leave Saturday free.”

Attendance reached 27,147, SIL officials said. Exhibitors confirmed a consistent turnout of U.S. clients, citing satisfactory order-taking that was generally in line with last year. Retailers included Abercrombie & Fitch, Bergdorf Goodman, Victoria’s Secret, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.

Several U.S. retailers said they were prioritizing luxury European product, a sector less concerned by inflated price tags.

“We’ve dropped all of our lower-price-point bras,” said Cindy Johnson, co-owner of Sol, a lingerie boutique in Denver. “Where we used to start at $40, a bra now starts at around $100 on average.”

Citing buoyant sales for 2007, Johnson predicted 10 to 15 percent growth for 2008.

“But given the U.S. economy, we are buying more conservatively,” she said, citing fashion bras as the store’s strongest growth classification.

“I’m more concerned about the cost of the garment justifying its value in terms of quality than the extra dollars,” said Claire Chambers, chief executive officer and founder of Journelle, a new specialty lingerie boutique in New York.

Echoing many, Chambers, who said she comes to the fair to scout edgy European brands, found the collections lacking in novelty. When it comes to fancy undergarments, Chambers said the mood to indulge is not about to slow in the U.S.

“I started my business because I am confident that women want to invest in small luxury purchases,” she said. “We’re in an era of self-gratification.”

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Key buzz sectors at the show included sports lingerie, maternity lines and fuller-bust cup sizes. Certain brands such as Gossard also unveiled lines targeting the bridal sector.

Dutch lingerie label Marlies Dekkers, which plans to open its first New York store in the coming months, unveiled a new maternity line, which featured a zebra-print nursing bra. The range comprises three lines and will retail between $100 and $160.

“Being pregnant is more fashionable than ever and its become more acceptable to want to look glamorous during that period,” said Franke Nagel, chief designer for Confiance Apparel Entreprise.

Confiance supplies brands such as Playtex, Wonderbra, Dim and Tesco.

“A lot of the major department stores are adding maternity lingerie sections,” said Janne Lesley, senior designer for Delta, which supplies British chains such as Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.

But she said the sports sector, in particular, is booming.

“People are keeping fit more,” she said, noting that sales for the classification have been especially robust in the weeks following the holiday season.

Lesley said more mills are developing hyperresistant seams incorporating glue technology that bonds seams in a heated-tape process.

“Piave Maitex and Eurojersey’s ranges were particularly impressive,” she said, adding that microencapsulation continues to be a hot trend using skin-friendly ingredients like aloe vera and vitamin E.

While natural fabrics are in big demand, many retailers appeared to be jaded by the eco-trend.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s a bit absurd — I even saw a milk-based fabric,” said Willy Mrasek, creative director for private label and brands at Chatsworth, Calif.-based Felina Lingerie. “Bamboo was all the rage, and then you hear about how much the processing method pollutes the planet. I’m not prepared to buy into any fabric until I’m fully convinced it’s green.”

Mrasek said he was still focusing on high-end European fabrics such as Leavers lace.

“There’s still a big demand for luxury,” he said. “We support the global market and we don’t want the economy to get in the way of our design philosophy.”

Lesley of Delta said, “We’ve seen a lot of developments with recycled materials for trimmings for fall, but the range of organic fabrics is still limited.”

Nagel of Confiance, who consults for some of the industry’s top brands, suggested that focusing on the sector’s mature customer could reap more benefits than chasing the latest fiber.

“All of the trends center on the younger market, as it’s more fun, but it’s the 50-plus sector that drives the business volume,” said Nagel, adding that people are staying fitter and healthier for longer. “The sector represents a great opportunity for brands that are brave enough.”

Executives from French bra brand Chantelle revealed plans to raise its profile in the mature lingerie sector, its core client base.

Chantelle’s nascent boutique concept, consisting of a new signature line of lingerie, loungewear and body creams, was showcased at the fair. It was a nod to the brand’s aggressive retail expansion plan. Since September, Chantelle has opened four stores in France, with 10 more openings planned this year.

The concept will be exported to the U.S. in 2010, said brand director Emmanuelle Voisin.

“Women are blooming in their Forties nowadays. They have money to spend and have the desire to take care of themselves,” said Voisin, who conceived the brand’s new campaign, shot by Peter Lindbergh and featuring Stephanie Seymour, which broke in September. “Feeling fashionable and sexy appeals to this age group, but function, fit and comfort are primordial.”

Other brands that are being repositioned include Wonderbra and Lou. Shifting its focus to coordinates as opposed to the cleavage, Wonderbra unveiled a new range of seasonal lingerie lines that will follow ready-to-wear’s cycles.

The Spanish corsetry brand, Lou, part of Fruit of the Loom’s intimates portfolio, revealed its revamped image at the fair. The fashion-forward fall collection was inspired by Poiret.

Sophie Drouard, the brand’s director, said a new campaign is being developed for the Lou brand with photographer David Bellemere to appear on billboards and in fashion magazines.

The family-owned corsetry label Simon Perelle is also preparing for a facelift.

“We’re not looking to revolutionize the brand, but to clarify its positioning by way of a new take on the image and logo,” said Sophie Martin-Teillard, the brand’s director.

Color flourished at the fair. Several retailers observed a mood of retro glamour with a prevalence of purples, forest greens and grays. Cashmere was cited as a key fabric for fall’s loungewear collections and many noted a resurgence of balconette bras and soft-cups in whimsical fabrics.

“I saw a lot more glamour-inspired pieces, such as bras with wider straps or that extend lower on the torso,” said Journelle’s Chambers, lauding Myla’s range.

Several retailers applauded Princesse Tam Tam’s neo-retro collection, particularly tartan prints in quirky hues such as marmalade orange and whiskey beige. The bodysuit is also making a strong comeback for fall, many retailers said.

“It’s not really in the style of the Eighties, although there are some styles with long sleeves,” said Laura Tree-Patel, lingerie and swimwear buyer for Selfridges in London. “The freshest look is with spaghetti straps.”

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