By  on June 2, 2008

May market may have been rife with revelry and industry events, but lingerie basics, not fashion, were the top items on the menu.

Reflecting the difficult economic climate and lackluster consumer spending, retailers were, as usual, on the hunt for innovative product with a touch of fashion — but it had to be an idea or concept that was considered "safe" with brands that offer longevity on the selling floor. The product also had to have the potential of becoming a replenishable item, vendors said.

This pragmatic approach applied primarily to bra and shapewear brands such as Wacoal, b.tempted by Wacoal, Josie Natori at Dana-co, Warner's and Olga at The Warnaco Group, Felina and Jezebel at Felina Inc., Elle Macpherson Intimates and Fayreform at Benden Inc. and Goddess, Elomi, Fauve and Freya at Eveden Inc., as they vied for tight retail budgets.

While it was clearly a foundations market, some classic designer sleepwear, such as Oscar de la Renta Pink, Carole Hochman Midnight and Lilly Pulitzer at The Hochman Design Group, Vera Wang and Donna Nadeau at The Komar Co., and Josie, Natori, Josie Natori and Cruz at the Natori Co., also saw good action. Novelty merchandise had a boost, especially collections with a contemporary flair, including French Jenny and Comfort Food, as well as licensed characters that have a fresh new spin, such as Betty Boop and Coca-Cola at Richard Leeds International.

In addition to the new b.tempted brand, several other introductions received strong reaction: Paramour by Felina Inc., an exclusive new label for Macy's and global distribution; a new line of full-figure and full-support sports bras called Freya Active by Eveden, and the licensed Sex and the City by Cosabella collection of bras and undies designed for the TV series-turned motion picture's characters Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.

The Bloomingdale's flagship in Manhattan hosted a "Sex and the City" lingerie party on May 22, where several hundred fans lined up for free tickets for Friday's movie premiere, as well as T-shirts, and several women scuffled in a melee for the giveaways and cosmopolitans, said Guido Campello, vice president of marketing and innovation for Cosabella.

"It was wild," Campello said. "All of these women were pulling and grabbing the [Sex and the City] lingerie off of racks and even merchandisers."He added that the company had to produce immediates for a second delivery to stores nationwide because the collection sold out in advance.

Regarding the Cosabella brand, Teresa D'Souza, design director for the Miami-based firm, said a group of matte-and-shine stretch lace undies with a raised rose pattern called Never Say Never was "very well received."

"It's an engineered lace group of polyamide and Lycra that's very stretchy with a 170-degree stretch," D'Souza said. "So we reduced the sizing because of its stretchability with thongs in one-size-fits-all and HotPants in two sizes, S-M and M-L. It was successful because it's all about softness and is available in six basic colors and nine fashion colors. We also did well with retro-looking, high-waist briefs, which are starting to gain interest because of the popularity of higher waists in sportswear and ready-to-wear."

John Bowman, president of Dana-co, sized up the mood of the resort-spring market as restrained and cautious.

"I don't think retailers were gung-ho for fashion," Bowman said. "It was kind of a mixed mood and the mood shifted a little bit from fashion at the last [February] market to somewhat conservative. Basic product was driving the market. Stores felt safer by not stepping out in a fashion direction and buying styles and products that had fashion touches, such as seamless bras with special lace or strap treatments. The one exception was Neiman Marcus and the high-end Josie Natori [bra] collection, where we added a lot more fashion."

Joanne Kaye, vice president of merchandising for the Intimate Apparel Division at Warnaco, said reaction was strong to a new bra group by Warner's called Invisible Bliss With Wires.

"Warner's created the first stretch [bra] straps in 1963, and Invisible Bliss takes the T-shirt bra to the next level with no strap adjustments or bulky hardware, foam cups that have proprietary Invisible Edge technology, and cosmetic skin tones from light, medium and dark body tones to black and white," said Kaye.

To display the "bulk-free" silhouette of the bra underneath apparel, several models wore body-clinging tops over the bras, which showed no bumps across the front or back.

Gregory Gimble, vice president of Va Bien International, said, "This year, we used the time to work with major new accounts we added in November and February, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. We spent the week executing product seminars with both, and also trained with sales associates at Dillard's in Phoenix and did a [regional] morning TV show with my mother, Marianne, who also does HSN shows, to get consumers into the Dillard's Scottsdale store. It was very successful and we're going to replicate that strategy in other regional markets."Bob Vitale, vice president sales and merchandising at Wacoal America, said, "Retailers certainly were asking for compelling product, but it's been a difficult time to introduce a new brand. Space is limited at stores and money is tight. The new b.tempted line was well received by retailers, even though there's a lot of concern about keeping inventories down and having exciting product at the same time. We still have a week and a half to finalize orders, but we think we'll probably exceed expectations."

Susan Demusis, executive vice president of merchandising at the Carole Hochman Design Group, said, "Retailers are definitely cautious. But despite the current difficult economic climate, they were able to home in on the product and identify great items and opportunities. They understand that even though current times are challenging, there will be a spring season next year."

Regarding novelty sleepwear, Marcia Leeds, chief executive officer of Richard Leeds International, said, "Many buyers were looking for newness. Anything that was the same-old was absolutely not selling at stores. Our buyers want to test more. Major department stores and promotional department stores want to take risks, but more calculated risks. So they are testing items early at 50 to 100 doors. They won't go to all doors on anything if they haven't tested it."

PHOTOS BY KYLE ERICKSEN, TALAYA CENTENO AND STEVE EICHNER

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