It’s time to shake the doldrums and rev up the lingerie scene with a wealth of luxury items, glam looks and sexy-looking fare.

That’s the tonic a majority of innerwear manufacturers believe will bolster retail sales and encourage consumers to buy following what many have described as an incredibly tough six months at stores.

March will most likely be the turning point of success or failure for numerous vendors, mainly because few retailers attended the January market and the bulk of spring-transitional orders were left unfilled until cautious retailers got a fix on what was selling and what was not.

With inventories low at stores, manufacturers believe the time is ripe to offer retailers a range of new, innovative product for holiday and fall, especially in colors and prints that are upbeat and special looking. While open-to-buy dollars will most likely continue to be tight, there is general optimism that buyers will embrace anything that is new and different.

Ideas expected to whet retailers’ appetites include:

Ultrafeminine and sophisticated sleepwear and beautiful robes.

Active-inspired at-homewear and related home accessories that enhance the comfort level.

Pajamas that have a novelty look, whether it’s a print, special effects or a soft, feel-good fabric.

A continuation of camis and novelty panties.

Soft, romantic colors such as lavender, peach, iris, mauve and mint, as well as washed neutrals in cappuccino and café latté.

Sheers that are embellished, flocked, printed or have burnout treatments.

Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Natori Co., said: "Based on the results of January market and our continuing strong performance at the retail level, we expect the momentum to continue for the March market."

Cantone acknowledged that business is fairly soft. She said: "Everyone is being careful with their open-to-buy dollars. But given our strong business in 2002 and numerous strategic initiatives with key retail partners, we have worked successfully together on fall ’03 plans, and the plans are very aggressive, targeting solid, double-digit growth in the Natori, Josie and Cruz lines."

Cantone said highlights for holiday selling will be centered on "glamorous looks," ranging from the Hollywood-inspired styles of the Forties to what she described as "contemporary, modern, sexy looks." She said the demand for Asian influences in colors and prints is expected to grow with items such as special-looking and luxurious kimonos and pajamas that are merchandised with Chinese slippers and appliquéd and embroidered accessories pouches.Designer Fernando Sanchez said he will present "a lot of knits for the first time, blends of cashmere and silk and cashmere and cotton.

"It will be more at-homewear than anything else," Sanchez added. "I also will be showing a capsule men’s [sleepwear and at-homewear] collection in silks and brushed satins. By next season, it will be a full collection once again."

He noted that retail sales of his signature brushed-back satin robes and sleepwear have been strong over the past couple of months "because of a loyal following."

"We are in a very upbeat, glamorous mood. It’s all about very sexy merchandise," said Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs. "What’s selling in stores right now is anything that’s different and not predictable. I’m convinced women love to shop, but the only reason they’ll buy now is if it’s different."

Victoria Vandagriff, executive vice president of sales at the Hochman firm, said: "Probably 85 percent of the retailers I’ve talked to are moving in a positive direction. A couple still have inventory issues. But so far, February has been fairly decent at retail. Overall, a lot of my accounts are eager to move ahead and put past the nightmare of last fall."

Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for the Lily of France and licensed Natori foundations at the Bestform unit of VF Corp., said: "I think retailers are ready for newness. They really are at their wit’s end on how to generate business at stores and what it will take to do that. The only thing that will do that is new introductions and products that will lift spirits."

Barbara Lipton, vice president of merchandising and design for the licensed Donna Karan Intimates and DKNY Underwear businesses at Wacoal America, said the newest idea for resort selling will be a group called DKNY Body.

"They are active-inspired pieces that are sexy looking and offer versatility," said Lipton, noting styles include low-rise yoga pants, pull-on pants and hooded tops.

Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said: "This Valentine’s Day was the best I’ve seen for sexy-looking merchandise. So we’re starting a new project, an extension of our seductivewear line by Cinema Etoile that will feature long styles. We think the timing and the market is perfect to introduce this idea for holiday 2003."Marvin Backer, chief executive officer of Flora Nikrooz Lingerie, said: "I’m very optimistic about this market, since just about every retailer passed on January. Traffic should be very brisk, especially since there will be two trade shows in town. Buyers are definitely ready for newness and color.

"There seems to be a demand for items that offer a new sensuality in fabrics such as chiffons, charmeuse and velvets that are body-conscious and enhance the body. We’ll be doing a lot of long, ethereal-looking Grecian-inspired sleep gowns. Not everybody wants to wear a baby doll."

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