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A growing demand for lingerie and sleepwear in bold, bright colors and prints is creating an additional layer of business at retail this summer.
This story first appeared in the July 23, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That’s the word from innerwear buyers at major department stores, specialty shops and e-commerce businesses, where key items and specific classifications are sparking an uptick in sales.
While basics, especially bras and panties, continue to claim most of the business, several retailers privately acknowledged second-quarter increases of 3 to 10 percent or more in the fashion arena. But even basics are getting a little spice: shades like steel gray, which used to be regarded as a fashion color, are now part of the basic mix.
Best-selling colors currently include yellow, purple, turquoise, hot pink, coral, navy and marine blue. Mid-tone blues and a range of berry shades are expected to be strong this fall. Top prints include graphics and a range of florals such as jungle-inspired foliage and floral motifs, petite floral patterns and a host of Impressionist painterly prints. Also strong are multicolor Missoni-inspired patterns, particularly in daywear, retailers reported.
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Key items include boy shorts, camis, long and short-slip gowns, and dual-purpose lounge pieces with a casual sportswear look that can be worn outside the home.
As for fabrics, the number-one classification is lightweight cotton knit, either in all cotton or micro Modal blends. The reason: comfort, especially during an uncommonly hot summer.
Regarding the slowly improving economy, retailers generally said sticker shock at the counter is abating and that consumers began stepping up their purchases of fashion merchandise this spring.
Here, retailers reveal what’s driving summer innerwear sales.
• Maureen Stabnau, senior vice president of merchandising at Barenecessities.com, said, “Across all brands, we are seeing color and prints becoming more important, and it’s adding a nice layer of business. From Wacoal to Calvin Klein and Hanky Panky, brands are making an effort to add more color and prints.” She pointed to deep blue and purple as best-selling bra colors.
“In sleepwear, business is very good and I attribute it to knits worn in and out of the home.…More vendors are adding core knits because it’s comfortable, relaxing loungewear. The category continues to grow with brands like DKNY, JP Salvage and Calvin Klein.”
Stabnau said a multicolor Missoni-inspired cami and thong are among top sellers. “It’s been up a week and we’ve had a 33 percent sell-through on the original thong by Hanky Panky.”
She noted price resistance “hasn’t gone away totally, but we’ve definitely seen a trend toward spending more and splurging on more fashion bras like Prima Donna, which retails for $90 or more, and Marlies Dekkers, priced from $80 to $90.”
• Elaine Hunter, moderate bra buyer at Macy’s, said, “Anything heathered or mixed media like a lace trim that’s different from the bra color” has been a bestseller.
She cited the Custom Lift Bra by Maidenform as a top-selling basic bra in terms of silhouette and “our best sell-through in volume.”
As for overall trends, Hunter observed, “Abstract prints have done well as well as mid-tone blues, turquoise and gray, which was so good as a fashion color that we put it on replenishment. The top seller is Steel Violet by Vanity Fair. Our tech business continues to be tremendous — seamless bras in brights and sherbert colors….We continue to see color being important for fall and we expect to continue seeing multiple sales.”
• At Amazon.com, a spokeswoman said, “Wine, fuchsia and watermelon colors are doing well, coming off the tangerine trend for spring.” She pointed to “painterly-type florals” as a strong print category.
Key ideas in sleepwear include “maxi…longer styles of nightgowns and T-shirts, as well as basic cotton poplin and seersucker sleep sets, kind of borrowed from the boys. I think this will be big for fall.”
Top-selling brands include Natori, which she described as a “great asset that speaks volumes to all sorts of customers,” and Midnight by Carole Hochman cotton knit sleepwear, which is doing well because her silhouettes “are so spot-on for the customer — simple, classic knit styles.”
• Suzanne Alvarado, owner of Sugar Cookies, a specialty boutique in Manhattan, credits the appetite for special items for a sales increase of more than 10 percent from a year ago. “My business has increased in the double-digits because last summer we launched our Web site, which increased traffic, and because customers have also wanted more fashion and specialty items.”
She said price resistance began ebbing in 2010 and is currently no longer an issue. “I’ve definitely seen a change in shopping patterns, but not so much for basics. Customers are willing to spend on special fashion pieces.”
Alvarado cited purple, turquoise, electric blue, hot pink and a range of citrus tones as top-sellers. Key prints include a sheer leopard pattern with coral accents in a bra-and-panty set by Mimi Holliday. Her top selling lingerie brand is Cosabella.
• Cheryl Sloane, co-owner of G Boutique in Chicago, also said Cosabella was her top brand. “We’re having a really hot summer in Chicago and we’re selling a lot of cotton and cotton blends….Cosabella makes a group called Dolce and the boy shorts are incredible, soft and comfortable.…In the summertime, when girls are wearing more skirts and dresses, the boy short is essential. Cosabella is all about color and I think they really hit it this year with color that works in any season, like Ultra Blue, a marine blue, and a grape shade they call Jelly.”
Addressing the price issue, Sloane said, “I feel price panic is over and people have settled into their budgets and know what [they can spend]. We don’t sell as many $250 bras anymore, but the average range is $78 to $90.”
• Janelle Kenny, marketing director at Sol, an upscale specialty store in Cherry Creek North, Colo., cited the Natori and Josie by Natori brands as the retailer’s top-sellers. “Customers love the bright and happy prints and they’re drawn to the soft hand of Modal knits in the collections,” she said, adding that price has not been an issue for her store.
“We haven’t gone down in our pricing during the recession…Our number-one selling bra by Marie Jo sells for $112, and bras by Andres Sardas and Lise Charmel continue to sell well for around $200,” said Kenny, noting that Sol is located in an “affluent” community.
• At Intimacy, an 18-unit specialty chain based in Atlanta, colorful fashion foundations and convertible bras for full-busted women are topping the charts. Top-selling brands are PrimaDonna, Empreinte, Chantelle, Simone Perele and Marie Jo.
“Business has been good,” said Susan Nethero, founder, part owner and consultant, adding that comparable-store sales are up about 5 percent since March, and sales are growing on the Web site launched in November. “Now that everybody has colored jeans, a colored bra is kind of sassy. We’re selling a huge variety of blues from Caribbean aqua to navy as well as mango, hot pinks, fuchsia, lavender, purple. Simone Perele had a beautiful bra in kiwi that blew out.”
Shoppers are also responding to new options in larger cup sizes —including strapless styles to H cups, and convertibles and halters up to G, Nethero noted.
• “The intimate category is moving out from under clothing,” noted Cyndie Washburn-Nester, trend director at J.C. Penney. “We’re seeing more and more that women are letting their intimates be seen for their beautiful qualities. Lace, color, decorative strap details and new retro shapes are just a few of the new trends in the intimate category.”
Color has “never been stronger,” she said, particularly in Penney’s own Flirtitude brand.
Washburn-Nester also sees increasing interest in retro pinup styles, long-line bras and higher-cut briefs, including among junior customers influenced by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Lace is also making a comeback.
• Alison Rubke, owner of Faire Frou Frou in Studio City, Calif., said, “Bright colors are huge. Like anything, a cheerful color and neon has been really big the whole summer. And from what we see for our catalogues for next season, it will continue. Neon orange, yellow, and green…they’re all wonderful. Hanky Panky [bras at $40, panties at $20] and Claudette [bras at $58, panties at $20] are big brands selling well for us within that trend. The order we placed for summer has completely sold out for both and we’re restocking now. It’s really well priced. The romper playsuit style has continued to be popular as well. A lot of backless panties have been doing well, by brands like Bordelle [bras $200, panties $100], Lascivious [bras $130, panties $90], Maison Close [$30 to $100] and Marlies Dekkers [bras $99], who specialize in bras with strappy detailing. Those are the key brands we carry for backless panties. It’s a fun, new novelty.”
• “Bold colors always do well, especially if the strap is a nice color,” said Rebecca Krihali, co-owner of Sara’s Lingerie in Studio City, Calif. “It’s fun to show that under a cami. Chantelle lace has been big this season, along with a triangle bra versus a padded bra. A high brief, like knickers, have been much more popular this season as well.”
Other key performers include retro looks from the Seventies. She said styles from British brands are doing well, citing Made by Niki [bras $300, panties $360, bodysuit $562], a couture house from London that specializes in a lot of fringe. “It’s very elegant, it reminds me of old films. Anything I’ve seen coming from England has been right on the mark. They have also been picking up on the bright color trend. They are doing a lot better than the French and Italian brands lately. As far as sales, the economy never really hurt us since it’s such high end climate, celebrities, stylists, and longtime customers have always kept out business up and going.”
• Lisa Norman, owner of her namesake store in Santa Monica, Calif., said, “I think people are looking for color, especially when the bra or strap shows. Lined and push-up is still big. Everything is very fitted, but a bit more casual this summer. It’s all sort of repetitious — how many times can you reinvent the wheel. People still want pretty and simple but something they can wear under their T-shirts. It’s been a quiet and slow summer in sales. People need more specific things, like a strapless bra or low cut.”
• At Footsie and Pink Lili in Santa Monica, Calif., owner Lisa Frank concurred that color has been the star.
“I carry all basics [at Footsie] and usually stick with nude, black and white for lingerie and intimates, but I bought so much color for summer and sold all of it. Red didn’t really do as well, but orange, hot pink, fuchsia, aqua — people let it show and it did great. I do very well with color with Simone Perele [$75 to $100 for bras, $24 to $60 for panties] and really well with Marie Jo [$100 to $150 for bras, $35 to $50 for panties] from Belgium. We sell La Perla well, too — bras are $85 to $490 and panties are $35 to $490.
“Demis are also coming back; they want their bra to disappear. Women were a bit riskier this summer letting it show more. Business has been really good. One thing I do is work in the present, so I’m not sure about the next season. We go to market in the next few weeks, so I’ll know soon. The color also for fall I think will be purple. Dots I see still being big in the intimates and hosiery section. They’re very current.”
• Lisa Fremont, manager at Only Hearts in Santa Monica, Calif., cited, bright colors and stretch lace bralettes, bras, boy shorts as strong performers. “The stretchy lace bra was definitely our best [$45 to $65]. We do really pretty boy short panties [$20 to $68] with ruching in the back. Just bralettes in general — if it has a print on the strap, you know it’s cute. A bra with a lot of hardware on it has performed well.
“We’ve done amazingly well with a style we call Whisper [$50 to $90]. It’s a shear bra with thin straps. Venice sleepwear, at $90, feels amazing. And all of those have been strong with the bright color accents as well.”
She also cited organic cotton, animal prints in bras and underwear sets, a print with magenta and purple, and hot pinks, blue violets and magenta. Only Hearts’ colored pieces sold out.
• Kathy Rodarte, manager, Lulu’s in Manhattan Beach, Calif., said business has been good. “I think it was different this season, as lingerie was seen as an accessory. We do well with the brand Clo — it’s a racer-back lace vest ($106), done in bright colors. It’s meant as an underpinning but also as something that can be seen and is really beautiful.”
Best colors were coral, royal blues, yellows and the bright pinks. Bandeaus and sequined bras, bralettes and a strong emphasis on underpinnings that are meant to be seen were key. She cited the Sweetie bra from Cosabella ($48), an all-lace number with no underwire but great support, and Eberjey chemises sleepwear ($74 to $88). Skin and Samanatha Chang are other strong brands.
• Maria Paz Navales, owner of Undrest in Los Angeles, said naturally dyed cotton bras in neon colors at $38 have been great sellers. “Sales have been great, the neon is so up to trend, and lots of people are buying into it. All the bright peach summer colors have done really well, our Supima cotton and liberty cotton lingerie [$30 for panties, $248 for robes, $60 for bras] are always top sellers. For fall I’m doing a lot more in a darker palette, almost a night sky influence, so navy blues and black with French laces will be important.”
• Jennifer Swanner, manager and assistant buyer at La Mode Lingerie in Houston, said color-blocked and solid bright foundations by La Perla, Aubade and I.D. Sarrieri are hot tickets.
“There’s also a lot of action in lingerie. A lot of our sleepwear vendors have kicked it up, like a halter top with lace and pants,” she said, “and consumers really appreciate the difference because everybody does a spaghetti strap [camisole] so it’s nice to see variation.”
• Zee Patel, buyer for Bits of Lace, a specialty shop in Charleston, S.C., said cotton with a MicroModal blend is her top-selling classification.
“We’ve done very well with a cami-and-boy short set in tangerine by Nicole Miller [at Carole Hochman]. The Modal fabric feels like butter and it’s so comfortable. We sold out and reordered it and now have only a few pieces left,” said Patel. She added that pajama sets of cotton and MicroModal by Eberjey and B-Up in “beautiful, vibrant colors” such as yellow and fuchsia have also been strong.
• The popularity of color has been a “nice surprise,” said Tomima Edmark, owner and president of Andra Group in Dallas, which operates Herroom.com and Hisroom.com.
“Generally it’s the fuller-figure woman who likes color, but now all sizes like colored bras,” she said. “It’s interesting colors too, like yellows and orange — we’re sold out of those colors.”
She feels women are embracing colored bra straps as a layered look that’s stylish and easier than trying to disguise a bra.
“I have two teenage daughters, and they are asking for colored bras because they don’t want to figure out a bra to wear under a summer top,” she said. “The straps can show as long as it’s a fashion statement and a contrasting color — not a mistake.”
The e-tailer’s sales are up in double digits this season, she said, with Eveden’s Fantasie, Freya, Goddess and Elomi brands leading the fashion business.
Edmark attributes Herroom’s gain partly to a “universal cup size” program launched in April that shows equivalent sizes across different labels. For instance, it spells out that Natori’s 34DDD is equivalent to Fantasie’s 34E and Chantelle’s 34F. The program helps a woman who’s a G-cup in one brand find out she’s an F in another.