By and  on January 26, 2009

FIGURE IT OUTIt’s OK for women to talk about their shapewear.From the red carpet to Oprah’s couch, Hollywood stars from Queen Latifah to Maria Bello are proudly talking about what they’re wearing under their clothes to help smooth out their trouble spots. At last year’s Oscars, for example, Latifah told reporters about more than her dress, announcing, “I’m wearing a Curvation [bra] and Spanx.” Gwen Widell, executive vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America Inc., says, “I was watching the Golden Globes, and celebrities were all talking about wearing Spanx, or a longline bra. That wasn’t acceptable even a year ago. It’s working for shapewear because technological advances are allowing us to eliminate layers and remove bulk.”Following the Spanx phenomenon, which started in 2000, and spread to Sculptz in 2003 and Cass & Co. and Sassybax in 2007, the segment has exploded in recent years. Oprah was a big factor in getting Spanx on the map in 2000 when she told viewers, “I’ve given up pantyhose. You get smoothness all the way down. You don’t have the panty line…OK….I should own some stock.” High-end players like Donna Karan Intimates have joined the field, as have established brands such as Wacoal, Playtex, Bali, Warners, Flexees, Jockey, Hanes, Body Wrap, Va Bien, Rago and QT. Joyce Baran, a 30-year veteran of shapewear design and founder of product development firm JBD LLC, says, “People used to say shapewear was unmentionable. Now it’s bragable. You see it being talked about on the red carpet. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Baran has helped develop the Secret Weapons and Du-Mi brands.In the past year, more than a dozen new shapewear brands have entered the field. Several are entrepreneurial firms headed by young designers who maintain they couldn’t find a shaper to properly address their figure problems — from eliminating belly bulge to smoothing out lines — so they decided to make their own.“I designed the product for myself after my two babies were born,” says Heather Thomson, designer of Yummie Tummie. “There were all of these shapewear products out there, but they didn’t work. I wanted a beautiful control tank top to flatten my muffin top, and I wanted to be comfortable and look hip and cool. So I designed an item with two fabrics sewn together: 50-singles cotton and polyester-tricot. It can be worn under a jacket, and when the jacket is off, it looks very corseted.”

Staci Berner, a cosmetician, created Shapeez, a line of full-busted bras with extra coverage across the back to smooth bulges under knits and tight-fitting apparel. “There were a lot of tops I couldn’t wear, and I went on a shopping search and found nothing with the smoothing properties I wanted,” she says. “I had this stretchy fabric and took the components from a bra and made myself a great bra that gave breast support and no back bulges. In reality, if you can’t find it, make it.”Other new brands include Secret Weapons, Slimpressions, Du-Mi, Top Secret, Sonic Slimmers, MMK Brands, T Mates, Squeem, Atateks, D’talles de Mujer, and Flabulous, a product designed to manage arm flab. In addition, Cosabella is expanding into shapewear this fall, with an eco-friendly bamboo-blend collection called Cosabella Smoothy.Designers have a range of cutting-edge fabrics and applications at their disposal, with seamless and heatsealed technologies that offer feather light, breathable control items that move with the body and feel like a second skin. Bulging seams and boning that can produce unnatural contours and thick nylon or power mesh layers that move unflattering inches to other parts of the body are gone.Among the innovative ideas are allover seamless Santoni knits that fit like a glove — a technology that has advanced over the past decade with a variety of textures and fashion prints that are now used industrywide from Target private label to luxe Natori fare. Other advancements include knit-in engineered control for problem areas like the tummy and thighs, lazer-cut edges that leave no lines, and dotted silicone compression insets and laminated control panels, which give extra control as well as a retro look.The newest part of the equation is Invista’s Lycra 2.0 technology, which is aimed primarily at shapewear and provides heat-sealed banded hems, seams and bands with stretch and recovery for a sleek, all-day fit. There’s also a new generation of buttery-soft microfibers ranging from fabric and fibers made by Nylstar’s Italian brand Meryl, to Hyosung’s Creora brand of spandex and microfiber. But not all innovation centers around support itself. For example, Invista’s White Lycra, launched last year, doesn’t yellow after washings, while Black Lycra, introduced in 2007, imparts black fabrics with a purer black while enhancing bright colors. Lycra freshFX, meanwhile, wicks away moisture for a fresh, dry feeling. Sizing up the shapewear phenomenon, Jessica Alba confessed in 2005 that in order to fit into her skin-tight blue suit in the motion picture “Fantastic Four,” she needed a shaper to look good at all times. “I have to hold my stomach in… it’s really not forgiving at all and if it’s that time of month, whatever, it shows everything. I wear this stuff called Spanx. I appreciate that.”— Karyn Monget

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