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Shapewear Stands Out

The category is innovating with equal parts style and function to attract a larger audience.

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It’s out in the open.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While shapewear might have once been part of an outfit to be kept firmly under wraps, a new generation of shaping garments that combine function with luxurious, innovative fabrics and design details is throwing a spotlight on the category.

Haute labels such as Agent Provocateur and Chantal Thomass are adding detailed shapewear pieces to their collections in delicate fabrics such as mesh and lace, which nod to the category’s vintage roots. Meanwhile, shapewear-focused labels such as dMondaine, Grace & Wilde and Eurotard’s Julie France are creating ultramodern, fashionable shapewear in a range of innovative, sculpting fabrics.

Indeed, Anne-Lise Tardieu, lingerie buyer at Le Bon Marché in Paris, said she’s noticed that women are buying shaping lingerie specifically to show off and enhance their figure, rather than merely to hide flaws.

“Shapewear is no longer [just] meant for curvy women but for skinny women [too], who represent the bulk of our clientele,” said Tardieu, citing brands such as La Perla, Chantal Thomass, Wacoal and Triumph as being among the store’s best-selling shapewear lines, creating pieces that Tardieu said “sculpt” the body.

Capitalizing on opportunities like this is the way to build the business, observers concur.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, noted that the “big issue” with the shapewear market in the U.S. is that “the industry hasn’t done a good job of convincing customers that they need to wardrobe these pieces.”

Cohen said that instead, customers are only buying into the category when the often hard-wearing garments have worn out, meaning the replenishment cycle is slow. In the 12 months ended in November, U.S. sales of shapewear stood at $697.6 million, a dip of 1.1 percent from the year-ago period.

Additionally, Cohen said the fact that lower-priced shapewear lines had come onto the market had contributed to a downward trend in the category. He suggested that to grow the category, U.S. manufacturers look to the move that many European brands have made “to create new and exciting product, [so consumers can] justify buying a second or third item of shapewear.”

Alexandra Dorrell, assistant buyer for shapewear at Figleaves.com, a London-based online retailer, said that the shapewear it carries can be worn “as seductive lingerie rather than just as a functional piece.”

“The Figleaves customer appreciates luxurious fabrics and trim details on a product that will give her the results she’s looking for,” noted Dorrell, who pointed to Yummie Tummie by Heather Thomson — a brand that allows the customer “to smooth [her] silhouette without feeling frumpy” — and French firm Scandale as shapewear labels that are popular among its customers. So convinced is the retailer by the category’s potential that later this spring Figleaves will launch its own shapewear collection aimed at larger bust sizes, called the Vintage Mesh range, based around “flattering vintage styling.”

Sarah Shotton, creative director of Agent Provocateur, said the British label’s shapewear pieces also take their cues from vintage designs.

“Our Matilda corset [which retails around $650] is inspired by the Fifties and made from power mesh [and stretch corded French Leavers lace]. It transforms the silhouette and creates the illusion of an hourglass figure,” said Shotton.

She noted that it was only by creating glamorous, detailed designs that Agent Provocateur could approach category.

“We couldn’t do plain shapewear because [women] come to us to look sexy while transforming their body,” said Shotton, pointing to another of the label’s ranges, Jet, which uses “soft tulle and PVC binding…to show off [the body’s] proportions.”

Thomass also takes what she calls a “very retro-style” approach to shapewear. Her shaping pieces include a high-waisted brief with lacing details, and wired corsets for evening, which aim to give the wearer a narrow waistline. “Corsets are the ancestors of shapewear,” she noted.

Paris-based Maison Lejaby is also taking its shapewear designs into higher-end territory. Colette Candela, the label’s artistic director, said the company will introduce a number of shapewear products as part of its Couture range in June. They will be based on pieces in the label’s Elixir range for larger-busted women, made from lace and stretch mesh, but will be refashioned in more luxurious fabrics. The new collection’s fabrics will also include up to 30 percent of Invista’s Lycra fabric, with Candela noting that the high Lycra content is “very important for support.”

Meanwhile, a number of recently launched shapewear brands are creating sleek, modern garments designed to be shown off in their own right while still providing body shaping and sculpting benefits.

Grace & Wilde, which was launched in November by two beauty industry brand directors, Serena De Maio and Mary Carmen Gasco-Buisson, made its debut as an alternative to what the duo saw as the prevailing “granny pants” styles of shapewear on the market. Their designs, which include body-shaping bustier tops and form-sculpting dresses, come in colors such as blush, vibrant red and royal blue, and are crafted in a fine-gauge mix of polyamide, cotton and Lycra, without seams, for a smooth yet comfortable shape.

“We were determined not to be satisfied until our garments delivered a real wow [factor], with significant visible and feel-able innovations compared to the existing products in the category,” the duo said in a statement. Since their launch, Julia Restoin-Roitfeld and the British singer Marina Diamandis have both worn the label’s bustier top and body as ready-to-wear.

Kiana Anvaripour, who founded the luxury shapewear label dMondaine in 2011 — with the tag line “Nothing to Hide” — said she plans to build the label into a “lifestyle brand focusing on shape,” incorporating its body-shaping technology into rtw and denim products.

Currently, the label’s bestsellers include the Jane bra, a contouring bra crafted from nylon and spandex that shapes the bust without using under-wiring, and the Rita dress, a low-backed slip with a built-in bra and versatile straps, made with nylon, spandex and mesh to sculpt the body beneath a dress. Anvaripour said she launched the line in response to women looking for “sexy shapewear,” and since its launch, the brand has become a favorite of red-carpet stylists, and has been worn by stars including Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé and Nicole Scherzinger. Its retail accounts include Selfridges in London and Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in the U.S.

Another shapewear brand that aims to be as attractive as it is functional is Julie France Body Shapers, which was created in 2007 by the U.S. dancewear label Eurotard. The firm works with microfiber fabrics to construct them as seamless garments with targeted contouring panels, which are woven in different gages to compress the areas of the body where contouring is required.

Mia Burdette, sales and marketing manager for Julie France Body Shapers, said the line builds on Eurotard’s expertise in creating functional dancewear to create shapewear that “compresses a woman’s silhouette naturally.”

And while the shapewear category is growing, it hasn’t yet saturated the market, and there’s clearly significant potential. According to Mintel, only 12 percent of British women bought shapewear during 2013, up from 7 percent in 2011. In its 2013 U.K. underwear report, Mintel noted that shapewear has become “more widely available and more fashionable,” writing that Topshop and Figleaves.com have both recently launched seam-free, shaping lingerie.

Meanwhile, research published in a U.S. Mintel report in 2011 (the most recent data available) shows the growth of the category. Researchers found that while only 10 percent of women in the country had bought shapewear over that past year, the category had performed particularly well with women between 25 and 34 years old, whose household incomes were between $50,000 and $99,900.

“These demographic groups represent the core of shapewear users and provide a strong foundation for the category to build on, as they have the greatest interest in these products and the income to buy it,” the report read. “Younger women tend to be more fashion-conscious, which makes them more inclined to be interested in shapewear.”

 

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