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The deep recession and retail woes did not appear to dampen enthusiasm or attendance at the CurveNY show last week.

This story first appeared in the March 2, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Attendance was up 25 percent against a year ago, totaling 1,937 visitors, said Laurence Teinturier, executive vice president of CurveExpo Inc. The three-day fair in Manhattan, which closed Tuesday at The Galleria at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, featured 250 collections from the U.S., France, Italy, Brazil, the U.K. and Canada.

“All major department stores sent their purchasing teams, often made up of only a couple of buyers as opposed to larger delegations in the recent past,” Teinturier said. “They included Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. But this season many buyers from West of the Mississippi did forgo the visit to New York because of two reasons: CurveNV was in their territory and widespread budget restraints.”

CurveNV took place in Las Vegas the prior week.

However, there were a number of specialty boutiques from Brazil, Indonesia, India and Dubai. Traffic was moderately busy and retailers were able to cross over to The Accessories Show, which ran concurrently with CurveNY at the Javits Center.

Retailers were on the prowl for new product, but were cautiously evaluating budgets and buys before making a commitment. In some cases, exhibitors said a few orders had been left at the show, mainly for immediate merchandise and Mother’s Day gift giving. But the majority of vendors said orders for fall and winter were not expected to be completed for the next several weeks.

Basics have been selling in a down economy, but a key trend was the push for newness, fashion colors and treatments. A top priority on retailers’ to-do lists was finding items and brands that featured a touch of fashion while combining function, fit and quality, and offering consumers the perception of enhanced value, said retailers. Also key was the price range of bras, a touchy topic among vendors and buyers who wanted stylish product that would retail between $50 and $60.

Claude Moreau, buyer of intimates for Sear’s Canada, said he found “a lot of newness in both colors and product.”

“At the New York show, I have a chance to talk to people, and the people here are very accessible,” Moreau said. “I spoke with the Grenier company about developing something for the Internet. My shapewear business is very good. We are now targeting younger consumers. I was drawn to Va Bien because of the full-figure range. It’s a very big market for us, and we are doing extremely well with the full-figure [shapewear] category.”

Margo Andros, owner of Pink Slip, a lingerie boutique at Grand Central Station in Manhattan, said, “We’re looking for something new. There’s a serious need because of the economy for bras in the $50 to $60 range. We’re also looking for something more modern because customers are depressed and basics are slowing down. We’re shaking up our vendors and diversifying.”

Amelia Gibson, who plans to open a lingerie boutique called Lingerie Lace in Tampa, Fla., in May, praised the Platinum Collection by Pascale Madonna.

Meanwhile, the negative economy did not keep major brands from exhibiting at the fair. Big names included Wacoal, Chantelle, Le Mystere, Natori, Josie, Josie Natori, Aubade, Simone Perele, Lise Charmel, Hanro, Felina, Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Midnight by Carole Hochman, and intimates and sleepwear by Oscar de la Renta and Betsey Johnson.

Several brands that made their debuts at the fair were Pascale Madonna Paris, Rosy, Nuit de Satin, Oh La La Cheri Paris by Ascension, Les Jupons de Tesse, and La Fée Verte, a contemporary Canadian brand of foundations. Also making a first-time appearance was Viceroy Collections, which featured Myla intimates, and is headed by Victor Lee, former president and chief operating officer of NAP Inc., who left that firm in the fall. As reported, the Madison Avenue showrooms of NAP, which is owned by the financially troubled Nitches Inc. in San Diego, were empty of apparel during the official market week in early February.

There were also entrepreneurial fashion resources that traditionally exhibit, such as Christine of Vancouver, Maria Scotto, Elizabeth Cotton, Carlton Hall and Fashion Forms, as well as shapewear specialists Rago, Va Bien, Body Wrap, Spanx and Sassybax. The presence of shapewear has grown with smaller, independent labels such as DuMi, Slimpressions and Squeem. A main reason shapewear executives believe the category is gaining in popularity is that many consumers in a recession can’t afford to buy new apparel, especially women whose waistlines have expanded, and buying a shaper can help them fit into existing clothes at a less expensive price tag.

Sizing up retailer-vendor strategies, Joel Clark Orenstein, president and chief executive officer of Fashion Ribbon Co., owner of the Pascale Madonna brand, said, “Retailers haven’t left orders yet. They are waiting to see all of the brands and look over their budgets. Then they’ll come back.”

First-year wholesale sales projection for the French brand is between $2 million and $3 million. Distribution is aimed at major department and specialty stores in the U.S. and Canada, as well as European boutiques, he said.

“It’s really not as bad as I had expected, considering the terrible economy,” said Paris-based designer Pascale Madonna, addressing the mood of buyers. “I have the impression that American retailers don’t want to give up. They appear to be very committed to making things work out.”

Carlton Hall, who is based in Houston, said, “Retailers are coming in and saying they have limited funds to spend. But most of them feel they have to bring something new to customers. I’ve had some orders, but there’s been extensive note taking.”

Lee of Viceroy Collections said he was “pleased” with the trade show.

“We’ve been steadily busy, all of our appointments came in and we’ve seen a handful of new accounts,” said Lee. “There’s been a combination of orders, reviewing and retailers saying ‘we’ll get back to you.’ But it’s been useful because everything is steady and our existing customers are coming back.”

Guido Campello, vice president of marketing and innovation for Miami-based Cosabella, said he was “surprised” by the turnout of new specialty retailers.

“We see an opportunity with several new [lingerie] shops that are opening up in townships in the Northeast,” Campello said. “We opened three new accounts, and we’ve been approached by a lot of new e-commerce businesses. We’ve had very good reaction to our new Smoothy by Cosabella shapewear line.”

Designer Maria Scotto said, “The great thing about this show is I got three new customers, one of whom came from the accessories show. Two retailers actually left paper. They all wanted immediate and Mother’s Day merchandise.”

Frances Smiley, a designer of upscale sleepwear, said, “This has been a great show for me. I did about $30,000 in orders with new lingerie boutiques in Buffalo, New York, and Washington, D.C.”