Three up-and-coming brands of lingerie and corsetry from diverse backgrounds are hoping to break into the U.S. market: Carol Malony, Odille and Court Royal.
Designer Carol Malony, a lingerie retailer-turned-manufacturer in the mid-Seventies and Eighties, has been a longtime supplier of specialty underpinnings for Victoria's Secret. But the Los Angeles-based designer decided it was time to launch Carol Malony Signature, a luxe-looking line of lace and embroidered bras and coordinating panties that Malony describes as "collectibles."
"It's like wearing a dainty piece of jewelry that's the equivalent of a Chantilly lace bra," said Malony, noting that each "sexy little bra style" has a name, such as Little Bo Peep, Tickle Me and Peek-a-Boo. The bras will retail for between $50 and $90, and coordinating undies will be priced at $20 to $30.
Regarding her retail background, Malony recalled, "I'm Canadian, and I became aware of beautiful lingerie boutiques in Montreal and Paris. American stores back then were not presenting fashion lingerie, it was all very hush-hush, very utilitarian. So, I became passionately interested in presenting the beautiful part of lingerie to the U.S. market and opened the first of four boutiques in Los Angeles called Fanny. My husband was an architect who had studied at Berkeley, and I gave him his first dream job — a lingerie boutique with armoires and sewing machines at the back with beautiful laces and trims where we would custom-build slips while clients sipped caffe lattes."
She said her knowledge of sourcing, production, merchandising, marketing and mail-order business has helped her to position the new brand in today's difficult retail environment. A good deal of her expertise was gleaned from the late Roy Raymond, the original founder of Victoria's Secret, who hired her as a consultant in the Seventies.
Malony said Raymond would drop by her shops with his girlfriend, Victoria, to check out the ambience and assortments, which included European bra labels Bolero, Lejaby, Simone Perele, Barbara and Huit. Then, Malony said, she spotted an opportunity to branch out into manufacturing.
"Manufacturing was going global, while my stores kept me localized," she said, noting that she sold her shops in 1990.Malony said her lingerie label will start selling in January at four Saks Fifth Avenue units in New York; Beverly Hills; Stamford, Conn., and Chevy Chase, Md. The line will also be featured next fall at the Printemps flagship in Paris. The line is aimed at smaller specialty operations as well. Maloney projected wholesale sales of $2 million by the end of 2007.
A U.S. distributor is being sought for the two-year-old Odille brand, the first lingerie label for British ready-to-wear company Mosaic Fashions, said sales manager Sophie Besse. The line is sold in England at department stores including Fenwick's and Jarrods, as well as 40 Oasis boutiques. A number of pieces are also sold in the Victoria's Secret catalogue and on the victoriassecret.com Web site.
The collection is designed by Janie Schaffer, who founded the Knickerbox name in the U.K. The name Odille is derived from a French children's book called "Odille and Odette," with Odille representing a "naughty girl, a baddy with an attitude," explained Besse.
The fall collection of bras, panties, boyshorts, camis, pajama bottoms and robes is rendered in mesh, tulle, chiffon and cotton voile. Colors include cherry, biscuit, berry, petal pink and antique gold. Spring offerings feature floral prints and overlaid embroideries detailed with mini mother-of-pearl buttons and bows. The overall theme is vintage-inspired in silk chiffons, voile prints and handmade laces. Bras retail between $46 and $65, camis go for $41 to $75, pajama pants are $54, boy-shorts sell for $28 to $57 and G-strings are $25 to $36.
Besse would not give an annual wholesale sales volume, but the Odille brand generates around $500,000, according to industry estimates.
A swimwear collection by Odille will be launched for summer, reflecting the vintage spirit of the lingerie, said Besse. Mosaic will also introduce its second lingerie brand next fall by Karen Millen, a high-end ready-to-wear label that's sold in the U.K., Russia and seven Karen Millen boutiques in the U.S.
Designer Arpana Gandhi is on a mission to modernize Victorian-inspired corsets bearing the 100-year-old Court Royal name and turn it into a celebrity brand.
So far, Gandhi's corsets have been worn by the likes of Halle Berry and by contestants on "The X-Factor," the British version of the "American Idol" TV show. A segment of "The X-Factor" with Simon Cowell photographed for OK magazine in September in Miami's South Beach featured a Court Royal corset worn by one of the show's stars, Sinitta, a British pop singer from the Eighties.Gandhi, who started out designing and developing fabrics at Tokyo-based Nitto Boseki, later sold private label garments bearing her name at the Sogo department store in Japan, Isetan Singapore and independent retailers in the Netherlands.
"Court Royal was a name I really wanted, and I acquired it six years ago," said Gandhi.
In the early Nineties, she purchased corset-making machines and a space for manufacturing. When purchasing a home, she found a treasure trove of Twenties memorabilia in the attic, including a vintage corset that was damaged but still exquisite.
"I would come back to it over the years, studying it to develop a corset pattern that would not only enhance and transform a woman's figure but also be comfortable to wear," she said.
Now, 15 styles of corsets in a soft, pliable plastic understructure and a double-looping feature that allows the wearer to adjust the corset are being sold on the e-commerce site courtroyalcorsetry.com. Retail prices average $120 to $200. Yearly wholesale sales are $500,000, said Gandhi, who said she plans to show her collection at the New York innerwear market in February.
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