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Heavy Traffic Gives Spring a Jolt

The burgeoning number of brands, new products and upstart companies injected renewed vigor into last week's spring-summer market.

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NEW YORK — The burgeoning number of brands, new products and upstart companies injected renewed vigor into last week’s spring-summer market.

The pace of the market was underscored by the Lingerie Americas trade fair at the Altman Building and Metropolitan Pavilion here, where 234 domestic and international lingerie brands were exhibited to a record number of nearly 3,000 buyers, suppliers, distributors and the media. The main draw was the diversity of large brands, new labels and scores of smaller entrepreneurial resources from California, Florida and New England, as well as Canada, South America, Europe and New Zealand.

Patrice Argain, president and chief executive officer of Lingerie Americas, said the company would be exploring options to expand the show’s venue in November, mainly because the turnout of visitors and the demand for additional space were growing.

“We are starting to talk to management at the Metropolitan Pavilion about having an additional floor for exhibitors and we are also talking to them about improving the logistics for visitors, such as a second elevator,” said Argain.

The fair is currently staged on the main floors of the Altman Building and the Metropolitan Pavilion, as well as on a fourth level.

Meanwhile, traffic was brisk at Madison Avenue showrooms, reflecting an upbeat and at times exuberant ambience. Many of the showrooms were filled to capacity by senior retail management and buyers from major department and specialty stores, including Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard’s and Carson Pirie Scott, as well as a huge representation from Federated Department Stores.

There also was a strong contingent of buyers for boutiques from the Midwest and Southeast, including shops that sell intimates along with ready-to-wear, swimwear, bridal and accessories.

Fashion merchandise was at the top of buyers’ shopping lists, which featured feminine daywear pieces such as dual-purpose chemises, camis, tanks and boy-cut pants, as well as a key sleepwear item: playful baby dolls with built-in push-up bras. Overall, elements that enhanced the perceived value of a garment were in demand, from soft microfiber and special detailing such as European and engineered lace to sequins, rhinestones and ribbon trims. Printed mesh  was a fresh classification.

Bridal was one top category that got the nod from retailers ranging from mass channels to national chains and department stores. It’s a category that vendors and merchants are planning to expand next spring, mainly because it has become a seasonless business and serves as special occasion fare as well, said executives.

Sarah Wiener, owner of lingerie and bridal shop Trousseau in Vienna, Va., said one new product in particular was “terrific” — a fiber-filled, molded strapless bra by Va Bien that is available in cup sizes 32B to 38G.

“One of my employees who’s a 36F cup wear-tested a prototype of the Va Bien bra for 12 hours,” Wiener said. “It didn’t cut into her or slide, and it gave her a rounded, uplifted shape.”

Commenting on the pace of the market, Wiener said, “I had 40 appointments in four days. Lingerie Americas is too short a show for what I need to get done, and the venue has become so small that there’s not enough room in a booth if other buyers are sitting. I’m told to come back, and I find that very frustrating.”

Alice Sena, owner of Sposabella, a lingerie boutique in Brooklyn, said she was pleased with the number of fashion offerings. “It was a wonderful, fabulous market, a kind of market I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Sena.

She cited four brands as standouts: Jonquil, Jane Woolrich, Sherry et Cie and Va Bien.

Sandi Simon, owner of Frishman’s, a lingerie store in the Bronx, said, “I thought the Lingerie Americas show was good and the market in general showed some good stuff. Generally speaking, there was some vitality out there; not like the last market, which was drab.”

Simon singled out bra brands Annette and Goddess as having fresh, new product.

“We had a fabulous market,” said Jessica Mitchell, senior vice president of marketing, merchandising and sales at Natori Co.

Mitchell cited “new showrooms at 180 Madison Avenue, and a new way to show merchandise in the showrooms” as main reasons for positive retail reaction.

“From a collection standpoint, innerwear-outerwear pieces were the hit of the Natori collection, and the higher-end knit part was very well received,” said Mitchell. “People loved the lifestyle approach of the Josie Natori collection, like the soft-dressing concept of sheer T-shirts with liners and washed crepe de chine separates. Sexy knit dressing was the highlight of the Josie collection.”

Flora Nikrooz, designer of Intimates by Flora and the Flora Nikrooz Bridal Collection at Age Group, said, “We have continued to grow our bridal business in a very aggressive way. This category is dramatically expanding at each tier of retailing and they are all experiencing wonderful bridal sales year-round.”

Similarly, Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said, “More customers are going after the bridal business than a year ago. It’s become an area of opportunity and a couple of mass merchants are making aggressive plans.”

Sizing up the bra market, Bob Vitale, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Wacoal America and the licensed Donna Karan Intimates and DKNY Underwear lines, said the firm’s new I Bra was shipped to stores July 20 and weekly sell-throughs were averaging 12 to 15 percent.

“DKNY also had a very strong market,” Vitale said. “We are focusing on building our DKNY bra business and panty tabletop business. We’ve also had good results with Donna Karan Solutions, a strapless contour bra with silicone strap treatments and a gel treatment at the center of the bra. Department stores want to grow their status business.”

Tobie Garfinkle, senior vice president of merchandising for Liz Claiborne Intimates, said a two-tone bra group called Sleek Stripes was well received. Solid cups and colored side combinations include azure and menthol green, willow green and carnation pink, cream and taupe, and tan and blush.

“A lot of stores were in and we were very pleased,” said Garfinkle. “More customers are getting on board with our Have to Have value program, which features…bras with microlinings, stretch fabric and beautiful, lacy, embroideries.”

Garfinkle added that a new strapless bra in the value program, available in average-figure and full-support, cup sizes B to DD, received strong reaction.

In young contemporary and licensed characters, Marcia Leeds, chief executive officer of Richard Leeds International, said an updated “potpourri of mixed characters under one theme” by Warner Bros. and Disney were hits for spring.

“Our Miss American Pie group had the broadest appeal with 2-by-2 rib tops with lace trim at the neckline and the bottom, as well as camis and chemises,” said Leeds, noting that best-booking themes included Minnie Mouse with pastries, Eeyore with flowers, twin cherry-shaped Tweety birds and Grumpy with sequined apples.

Another top idea was lace-trimmed printed mesh camis and boy-cut briefs with mini Pussyfoot motifs, she said.

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