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Whether it’s classic comfort or fantasy fare with a sexy twist, best-selling intimates and sleepwear for holiday gift giving share a common denominator: value and a look of quality.

This story first appeared in the December 21, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Major retailers and specialty boutiques cite the volatile economy for price resistance as consumers seek items at discounted prices. But merchants, particularly smaller operations, said a successful formula this year has been to provide customers with enhanced personalized service, free gift wrapping and lingerie brands that have a unique cachet or sex appeal, as well as sleepwear and robes that have a cozy, homespun flavor.

In a spot check around the U.S., innerwear retailers said traffic was sporadic at the beginning of the month, but added they were encouraged by the strong turnout of holiday shoppers in mid-December, a sharp contrast to last year, which merchants described as “horrible.”

On Friday, a majority of retailers said business was 10 to 25 percent higher compared with the same year-ago period.

Top-selling items for holiday gift giving include:

• Traditional, basic white knit sleepgowns in short, long and ballerina lengths, or classic nighties in soft colors such as solid lavender, dusty pink or pale blue with pretty contrasting lace trim.

• Snuggly pajamas, including separates such as a thermal top and lightweight flannel pants, or a coordinating pajama set with minimal trim, like satin ribbon or piping.

• Robes in bright, happy colors and prints, and short swing styles or easy, long wrap robes.

• Long and short slips in rich colors that have a ready-to-wear look.

• Novelty undies in amusing gift displays.

• A year-round staple: sexy bras and matching undies.

Linda LoRe, president of Frederick’s of Hollywood Group Inc., said, “Our customer is responding to details that embellish and make an item special like feathers, fun patterns and anything accented with rhinestones. That’s why items such as our Vintage Glitz Bra, which sells for $34; Over the Top Bling Corset, priced at $64, and Embellished Feather Corset, for $89, are doing so well. Our fashion corsets also serve dual purposes and can be worn as innerwear or outerwear. That has always been an attractive feature to the Frederick’s customer. We are also seeing a huge response to giftable items like our Plush Robe, which sells for $39, in zebra and leopard print.”

Regarding the mood of shoppers, LoRe said: “Consumers are very discerning about how and where they spend their money. We are responding to that by offering quality, fashion-forward gift items, such as our Plush Robe and Three-Piece Satin PJ Set, that have a high perceived value and retail under $40. We have noticed an interesting shift in customer mentality in that they are waiting longer to purchase gifts and shopping all channels [Web, catalogue, online] much closer to the holiday. We are also seeing that the customer is using e-commerce to shop and drive their purchase decisions. Customers are shopping for a purpose and are very destination driven.”

Sheryl Schultz, director of trends for intimate apparel and accessories at J.C. Penney, said fashion is key. “We’re seeing real peaks in the top fashion end, and on the opposite end, basics are doing exceedingly well, which is what you would expect in this kind of economy. Where we try to give a little fashion but play it a little safe is where we’re not batting 1,000. The customer wants fashion.”

Schultz said red has been the hot color, and the best-selling bras and panties are sexy looks that feature lace and pintucking. In sleepwear, bestsellers include fleece and flannel pajama sets as well as traditional plaids.

“We are pleased with the sell-throughs based on our stock levels,” she said. “We absolutely see the intimate apparel business growing. We’re taking good notice of the runway, where many pieces considered underwear are being worn as outerwear, like corsets, teddies, garters and hosiery with lace details. So, this whole classification is something the high-end designers have taken a look at, and our customer is responding to it. When we push the fashion envelope, that’s what they react to.”

Penney’s bestsellers include a pleated polyester satin balconette bra by Ambrielle, which sells for $33, and a coordinating thong for $14; a polka-dot cotton, spandex and polyamide plunge push-up bra of cotton, spandex and polyamide with lace trim by Flirtitude for $15 and a matching panty for $5, and a Peek-a-Boudoir candy-cane print polyester baby doll, listed at $25.99.

“We are seeing an increased demand for pajama sets, foundation garments such as Spanx and packaged gift sets from brands like Hanky Panky,” a spokeswoman for Bloomingdale’s said.

She singled out three best-selling items: Power Panties with Tummy Control by Spanx, retailing for $30, and two by Hanky Panky — the Original Rise Thong gift-wrapped like candy for $18, and a five-pack package of Low-Rise Thongs for $82.

At Neiman Marcus, loungewear, especially cashmere, is selling “very well,” said a spokeswoman, who noted plush robes, cozy sleepwear items and brushed-back satin as a classification are also strong categories. She added exclusive silk pajamas in holiday jewel tones, such as pajamas and boxed thongs, are other top performers. In related accessories, Ugg’s slippers are big sellers.

At Victoria’s Secret, a spokeswoman singled out two items: Miraculous, a convertible push-up bra that adds two cup sizes, selling for $45, and The Lacie collection, which features a bright, colorful, supersoft stretch lace thong; a hip-hugger panty; a slip; a baby doll, and a wireless bralette. One size fits all.

Panties are $16 each (or three for $30); slips are $38, and a wireless bralette sells for $18. These items are available in stores, the VS catalogue and at The baby doll and matching V-string bikini listed at $48 are sold in VS stores only.

Sexy lingerie and elegant loungewear are the top contenders at Trousseau, a lingerie boutique in the West Village shopping center in Dallas.

“The gentlemen are buying mostly the sexy fashion items, and the girls are buying loungewear, foundations and body shapers,” said owner Nasrin Hormozi. Trousseau’s best-selling holiday items include a soft and cuddly lace-trimmed Modal robe by Wendy Glez listed at $135, and Parah’s black-and-purple lace bustier priced at $329, with a matching panty for $125.

Pam Fitzgerald, owner of the Candlelight Shop in Ridgefield, Conn., said sales are about 25 percent ahead of last year. “I think customers are coming in because we offer free gift wrapping and give them the personalized service they can’t find at a department store, and they are willing to pay for those services.”

Top-selling items at The Candlelight Shop are a Modal knit top and wide, yoga-inspired pants by PJ Harlow, selling for $54 and $72, respectively; a long printed kimono by Natori for $170, and two microfiber styles by Natori — a long slip gown selling for $98 and a pajama set for $180, she said.

Chris Legatski, owner of Allure, a lingerie boutique in Santa Fe, N.M., said, “Pajamas by PJ Salvage are selling very well because the price point is right — $50 for bottoms and $80 to $90 for sets. Sales are up about 10 to 15 percent from last year.

People are buying items that are very basic and comfortable in feel-good fabrics,” Legatski said. “Another item that is selling well is a plain white sleepgown. But something that basic is hard to find. People are buying white knit gowns by Hanky Panky for $50 and long white knit gowns by Cot’n for $90.”

Lace foundations and silk chemises are leading trends at Intimacy, the high-end foundation’s chain. Among Intimacy’s leading styles are ivory guipure lace bras with matching panties by Lise Charmel, teal silk and lace chemises by Kenan NK iMode, stretch lace chemises and camisole sets by Claire Pettibone.

Bestsellers at Intimacy are the Beauté Indienne group by Lise Charmel of polyester, polyamide and elastane guipure lace bras, retailing from $198 to $205, and matching panties, from $140 to $151; Kenan NK iMode’s silk and stretch lace chemise in teal and black and champagne and black, for $85, and Claire Pettibone’s garnet scallop-edge stretch lace chemise with velvet ribbon and rose embroidery, for $130.

“The fun part is we’re selling fashion, luxury and gifts,” said Susan Nethero, founder and chief executive officer. “A lot of people are looking for support in a beautiful lace cup.”

December business started slow and sales were even with last year’s figures, but business is picking up, Nethero said.

“The strength is always in the second half of December. Men are more last-minute shoppers, and after [Christmas], a lot of people come in for bra fittings. It’s a good girls’ day out when the family is together.”


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