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This story first appeared in the July 27, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As much as underwear is an everything essential, as Susan Nethero of Atlanta-based Intimacy says, “it’s also, along with swimsuits and jeans, one of the most dreaded products women have to buy.” Indeed, there’s nothing like trying on a skimpy bra to bring out body issues, and the thought of asking for assistance in front of a store full of strangers only compounds the anxiety. None of this is news to lingerie shop girls, who are trained to take a sensitive approach to the sales floor. “All customers desire a different amount of assistance,” says Melissa Silvetti, of Journelle in New York. “When someone is shy or a little conservative, we tone down our energy so as not to attract attention from fellow shoppers.”
Whether a woman is in the market for basics or something that skews sexy, maintaining a level of discretion is key. At Intimacy, known for its bra-fitting specialists, customers can reserve appointments in advance online in an effort to avoid the discomfort of having to ask. Once there, “we don’t think any woman wants to be measured or weighed,” says Nethero, who tries to tailor appointments to the individual. “If it’s a young, teenage girl, we might pair her up with a younger fitter.” Regardless of age, most women — exhibitionists aside — consider privacy an essential part of the shopping experience, particularly when it comes to dressing rooms, which are often designed accordingly. “It’s a little nerveracking sometimes when it’s a very small store and the only thing dividing you and shoppers is a small curtain,” says Silvetti, adding that Journelle’s dressing area features sturdy doors.
Privacy isn’t the only issue: Dressing rooms are notorious for unflattering lighting, a problem Kiki de Montparnasse has solved by installing dimmers in the dressing rooms of its New York and Los Angeles stores. “People love it,” says Ashley Blanch, who manages the New York store. “You feel like you’re at home.” Yet for all the polite and studied sales approaches, nothing sells lingerie like confidence. Silvetti recalls a customer who, though skinny and stacked, was too timid to try sexier styles. After “a lot of gentle persuasion,” Silvetti persuaded her to buy a Cadolle corset, which she flaunted on the inaugural ball circuit. Seems the corset boosted her confidence, among other things.