NEW YORK — Innovation and breakthrough ideas continue to elevate lingerie to a higher level of aesthetics, comfort and well-being.

Basic cotton bras and undies began losing popularity in the early Nineties, when Lycra spandex began its ambitious campaign of giving underwear and daywear a new luster with its soft, synthetic stretch properties. Santoni seamless engineered knit technology, which originated in the hosiery field in 1986, revolutionized lingerie in the mid-Nineties, lending enhanced comfort as well as dual-purpose fashion looks to a category that was once regarded a commodity business.

The explosion of seamless technology teamed with new layers of multifunctional microfibers such as Invista’s Tactel and Lycra, Lycra Soft, Micromattique and CoolMax, as well as proprietary micro blends from mills and fiber specialists, including Bayer, Nylstar, Nilit, RadiciSpandex and Unifi, has helped double sales in the $12.4 billion intimate apparel industry over the past decade, according to industry experts.

These man-made blends have properties that wick away moisture from the body, provide shape retention that gently moves with the body and have engineered knit-in control for problem areas such as the waist, stomach and thighs.

No company has produced the ultimate Millennium Bra — a featherlight allover seamless bra with no underwire and no knit-in support, especially for full figures. One project that comes close is Body by Victoria, a seamless program of bras and panties in fashion colors that has become one of the most successful multimillion-dollar programs at Victoria’s Secret. Since 2001, the sleek, sexy bra collection was expanded to include underwire and nonwire styles with knit-in support. It’s considered by a majority of industry executives as the closest thing to the Millennium Bra.

Now, fabric and fiber specialists and manufacturers are seeking to enhance the quality and benefits of underwear, daywear, active-related separates and sleepwear with a number of innovative applications.

Benefits include:

  • Microincapsulation of moisturizing agents such as aloe vera, vitamin E and sea kelp in fibers or fabrics that sooth and scent the skin. This idea is prominent in the Lycra Body Care program in which Invista is partnering with International Flavors & Fragrances to cross-promote beauty and bath-related products.

  • The freshness factor — applications engineered into the yarn that inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria, and others that create a cooling sensation on the skin.

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