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WWDStyle issue 01/31/2011

Vendors will be treading cautiously at this week’s fall 2011 market in hopes that first-quarter business will pick up steam.

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Based on Christmas sell-throughs, fall offerings will be anchored in key items and fashion merchandise, primarily sleepwear, dual-purpose loungewear and robes in a range of colors and prints. Shapewear was also a fourth-quarter hit, especially functional pieces such as camis, tanks, full and half-slips, leggings and all-in-one bodysuits that have a ready-to-wear look. And bra specialists are anticipating strong demand for multifunction convertible bras that are pretty and embellished.

Executives said the growing appetite for fashion is encouraging retailers to slowly embrace new ideas as the industry emerges from the buying patterns of the last two years that saw consumers focus on basic underwear, daywear, T-shirts, socks, slippers and thermalwear. But while the economy may be recovering somewhat, value-priced items remain a must. As a result, vendors will be showing tightly edited collections in a broad palette of bold and bright colors and prints, as well as soft, cosmetics-inspired neutrals in an effort to enhance the perceived value of merchandise.

Josie Natori, president and chief executive officer of Natori Co., said she will be offering more dual-purpose lifestyle items in the Natori, Josie Natori, Josie and N Natori collections.

“We’ll be showing key lifestyle looks across the board because today people want versatility in what they’re buying, like at-homewear you can go out in.…I feel more positive about this market, but we are always cautious because the customer is still coming in for value and key items. I know what didn’t work for us last fall — dark colors, too drab, too serious. For fall 2011, we are showing brighter, happier prints and colors,” said Natori.

Richard Murray, president of Wacoal America, the U.S. arm of innerwear giant Wacoal Japan, said a lackluster economy continues to impact business.

“We are as optimistic as we can be with the economy not being on fire, and we’re all hoping the retail business will continue to improve every day….There have been good weeks and bad weeks in the fourth quarter.…We [the industry] haven’t seen consistent 5 to 6 percent increases, and we haven’t seen that type of growth for a while. I’m sure the snowstorms have had an effect on business, but the weather is only a temporary thing.”

Murray added, “We are optimistic because we will have so many new styles and colors and our iPant [shaper] gets shipped this month.” Wacoal’s iPant is a shaper brief that is microencapsulated with caffeine, an ingredient used in beauty products to help smooth the skin and reduce cellulite.

Jan Snodgrass, president of Hanro USA, said, “Some of the uncertainty factors have been around for a while, but we don’t expect things to take a turn for the worse. We expect things to improve, but the overall retail environment still remains challenging. Our optimism is based on a good pipeline of products [based on technological innovation] that are coming in. Hanro is famous for fabrics, which we produce in-house. In the last year, Hanro has made great strides in the way our fabrics feel and wear.”

Snodgrass pointed out a key example: Hanro’s ability to produce 100 percent cotton fabric with a “softer hand and drape” that the company hasn’t achieved before.

“We are coming into a year that is much better than last year,” said Guido Campello, vice president of sales, marketing and innovation at Cosabella. “We’ve been able to differentiate where we’re distributing on the Internet, department stores and specialty stores, which are healthier, more confident and more open to trying new ideas. This will make the American market more stable for us, and that stability will allow us to develop more new product and take more risks.…Sexy satin and lace did very well for us last fall, so we’re bringing it back again, but as more functional items that can be recolored and become basics into the spring.”

Campello said a top idea is a “day-to-night” group that features a cami, a waist cincher, a slip and a convertible bra that can be adjusted for an allover smooth satin look or as a lace-cup bra with satin trim.

Regarding new products, Lucille DeHart, chief marketing officer at Maidenform Brands Inc., said the company will be “unveiling one of our biggest concepts for the year,” called Adjusts-to-Me, a line of bras, undies and shapers.

“The line adapts to the changing conditions of a woman’s body, fitting her all the time, every day, while compensating for shifts in weight gain, daily fluctuations and inaccurate size selections. The collection is featured in an explosion of bra colors and cosmetic tones and fashion palettes for panties,” she said.

Bob Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal, said both recolors and new collections by Wacoal and b.tempted will be shown for fourth-quarter selling.

“Our b.tempted collection is especially strong for holiday gift-giving so our emphasis is on providing more exciting colors to add drama to the selling floors at a key time,” said Vitale.

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