By  on May 26, 1994

NEW YORK -- Push-up bras hogged the spotlight at the May innerwear market, but daywear and sleepwear were quietly generating a lot of action as well.

Vendors and stores said they were eager to keep the momentum going in both categories. Daywear got rolling early this year, while sleepwear has been moving ahead for several seasons on the strength of cotton knits and dual-purpose looks.

Anything that gave a silhouette a new twist -- fashion colors and prints, lace embellishments and ready-to-wear fabrics -- was a hit, manufacturers said. Textured treatments, cotton knits and softly layered fashion looks were big ideas.

Several merchants noted that funding for the fashion daywear and cotton knit sleepwear classifications was expanded this spring because business had been healthy. They plan still more funding for fall and holiday.

Key items in daywear were camisoles, stretch lace tank tops, little cotton rib knit T-shirts, and bodysuits. In sleepwear, baby dolls and short slipdresses were the stars, said merchants.

While the bulk of orders for late fall and holiday will most likely not be completed until the end of June, manufacturers generally say they expect sales gains in the mid-to-high teens, compared with last year.

Laurie Black, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Nordstrom, Seattle, singled out "little baby T-shirts" of cotton rib knit as the number one daywear item at May market.

"It's great to layer under long or short crinkle peasant dresses, and it's a hot item right now in juniors," said Black.

"Camisoles is the classification we're targeting for third-quarter daywear business," said Margaret Crandall, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and juniors at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich.

"We are looking at it as a classification of items that can be used as layering pieces, and increases have been healthy," said Crandall, noting that funding has been expanded for camisoles, and for some bodysuits.

Diana Weizer, merchandising counselor of sleepwear at Macy's East, said: "I think cotton knit sleepwear has been selling so well because it's an expansion of what so many women have become used to sleeping in -- cotton T-shirts."Weizer said texture has continued to drive sales of cotton sleepwear, along with the fact that cotton is a year-round fabric. She singled out little cotton knit baby dolls that women can wear as dresses as a "key item" for fall and holiday.

In addition to cotton knits, vendors cited a wide range of other fabrics that got big play for late fall and holiday. They include pleated acrylics and silks, stretch velours of polyester and cotton and cutout silk velvets, found both in sleepwear and daywear, and novelty knit blends, such as the cotton and flax bouclÄs turning up in sleepwear.

The sheer story in polyester chiffon or georgette continues to be strong, said vendors, especially in sheer metallics layered over matte jersey knit.

"Knits and interesting colors and prints were what it was all about for May market," said Norman Katz, chairman of I. Appel Corp.

Katz, like others, said department stores are planning more aggressive fashion daywear business for fall and holiday.

"Many department stores have had 15 to 25 percent sales gains in fashion daywear since February, because of all of the newness," said Katz.

Jack Salisbury, general manager of the Vanity Fair brand for Vanity Fair Mills, agreed, saying, "Stores have really gotten behind daywear."

Salisbury noted that fall bookings of daywear items -- particularly highly embellished camisoles and tap pants and bodysuits -- are 20 percent higher than a year ago.

Regarding key items, Josie Natori, president of Natori Co., said, "Short versions of layered slipdresses were very hot. Everybody wanted one for their Christmas catalog."

Natori, who noted that her firm was also showing early spring, said other top ideas included marabou-trimmed "glamour looks" in Natori sleepwear. To further stimulate the Natori daywear business, the firm introduced new packaging -- a clear plastic envelope with a black-and-white photo of a model wearing the item.

Natori said she expects a sales gain of 17 percent in the combined daywear and sleepwear bookings for fall and holiday over a year ago.

At Boutique Industries, Amy South, merchandiser of the licensed Michael Kors At HomeWear collection, said, "We've gotten great reaction to cuddly knits like stretch velours, and to textured knits like bouclÄs."It hasn't been a question of silhouette. It's a question of having the right surface treatment and a great hand," she said.

Sheila Solomon, national sales manager for Priamo Designs, projects sales gains of more than 17 percent over a year ago.

She singled out two top groups: robes and nightgowns of cutout silk velvet and silk chiffon, and the firm's first novelty print silks in unisex looks -- boxers and pull-on pants and sleep shirts with a jaguar print, and a western motif of steer heads, boots and cowboys.

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