By  on January 10, 2005

NEW YORK — The Warnaco Group is launching Axcelerate Engineered by Speedo, a bold new brand and classification of underwear that melds fashion with high-tech performance.

The high-performance underwear for women and men is a spin-off of an ambitious campaign to capitalize on the research and development of Speedo’s Fastskin FSII swimwear. The swimwear is based on research that uses laser technology as well as the flow and texture characteristics of a shark’s skin. It was created by the Speedo Aqualab in Nottingham, England, for world-class athletes such as Michael Phelps, Amanda Beard, Jenny Thompson and Lenny Krayzelburg to wear at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Warnaco, which owns the North American distribution rights for swimwear giant Speedo, will introduce the Axcelerate brand in the activewear arena for this spring. First developed by Speedo USA for initial distribution in the North American market, Warnaco is now poised to launch a select line of Axcelerate underwear for men in April, which will be followed by a “major” dual launch of both men’s and women’s underwear in July, said Helen McCluskey, group president of Warnaco’s intimate apparel businesses.

Distribution is aimed at 150 to 200 major department and specialty stores and sporting goods outlets. The underwear, as well as the activewear and swimwear, also can be purchased on the Web site. Wholesale prices for the women’s underwear line are $6 to $25; the men’s line wholesales from $8 to $30.

“We want to capitalize on the imagery of Speedo Fastskin II, which represents speed and performance. [Axcelerate] will embrace all of the new technology by Speedo,” said McCluskey, noting that a number of styles have a dual-gender appeal.

A multimillion-dollar advertising campaign will incorporate outdoor, national and co-op ads, sporting events and guerrilla marketing with retailers in key cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and New York, said Anne DiGiovanna, Warnaco’s vice president of marketing.

“Axcelerate underwear will use the face of Michael Phelps as the face for the men’s line, and Amanda Beard will be the face of the women’s line,” said DiGiovanna. “Odette Sugarman, the photographer who shot the Axcelerate activewear, will photograph the underwear, as well, to ensure brand and image consistency.” Both the men’s and women’s lines will include three state-of-the-art groups, all of which feature tagless labels and a clear signature boomerang logo etched in lime green:

  • Compression, a contemporary athletic group of “cool handed” nylon and spandex that compresses muscles to maximize performance. It also features a wickable finish, double-layered tanks and crop tops and an underwire treatment.

  • N3S, a lifestyle performance group of lightweight microspun polyester yarn with the look and feel of cotton. It can be worn to the gym, for yoga or as streetwear. It features three trademark finishes — “no stink, no stain and no sweat,” said McCluskey.

  • Seamless Santoni, modern, sleek allover seamless underwear of smooth nylon and spandex. Key details include engineered knit-in athletic stripes and shark-scale patterns that replicate the characteristics of a shark’s skin in Fastskin FSII swimwear.

Barbara Lipton, vice president and general manager of Warnaco’s lingerie fashion brands businesses, which include Axcelerate, JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez and Lejaby Rose, said the line is aimed at consumers in the 25-to-45 age range, noting the “bull’s-eye target” is 25. “But I think it will appeal to 18- to 50-year-olds, as well,” she said.

Asked if Axcelerate could compete with Calvin Klein Underwear, another Warnaco brand, McCluskey replied: “This is all about performance underwear. It’s for a person who has an active lifestyle. Calvin Klein is all about sexy. At the end of the day, both brands could be in their drawers. But the end uses are different.”

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