Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — The Gap Body bodywear and intimate apparel stores being tested by Gap Inc. soon may turn into a fully developed business.
Plans to expand the number of existing Gap Body units from nine to several hundred reportedly have not been made final by Gap’s upper management, but sources at the Lyon Mode City trade show in Lyon, France, said Gap intends to roll out 500 or more Gap Body shops in a three-to-five-year period. A Gap spokeswoman acknowledged the company’s plans to roll out additional Gap Body shops but would only say that 30 new units would be opened by the end of the year.
The shops — some of which could be freestanding units by early next year — are expected to have a plan and setup similar to those of the test units in Cherry Hill, N.J.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; North Brook, Ill., and Aventura, Fla. The innerwear units are adjacent to a Gap store in shopping malls, and each features an independent entrance and a crossover entrance into the main Gap store.
Gap opened its first 2,000-square-foot Gap Body unit in the Cherry Hill Mall last September. At the time, it was unclear whether the sportswear retailer would get into intimate apparel in a big way. But the test units — which offer bodywear and intimate apparel items, including some bras and panties, men’s underwear and robes — apparently are clicking, according to sources.
“What’s so unique is we are doing loungewear and sleepwear and bath and bed products for both men and women,” said the Gap spokeswoman. It’s all being done in a very clean Gap environment. The most exciting part of this is it includes men’s products.”
She further noted that the company was “very excited” about the prospect of seamless undergarments, one of the hottest innerwear classifications at retail today. “Foundations is going to be great for us,” she said.
The introduction of a family of Gap Body shops eventually could put Gap in a highly competitive position against Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, both divisions of Intimate Brands.
In addition to taking away valuable innerwear business from department stores and chains, a Gap entry could have an impact on the thriving business of megabrands Calvin Klein Underwear, Ralph Lauren Intimates and DKNY Intimates, said market observers.
A key classification the Gap intimates staff reportedly was looking for at the Lyon show was allover seamless underwear and daywear, particularly microfiber. Gap Body’s current mix of men’s and women’s innerwear — which is produced in Israel and the Far East — is anchored in cotton knits.
That was the talk among top retail and innerwear executives at last week’s Lyon show, where several Gap designers and buyers were seen scouring the fair for innerwear. The Gap crew included buyers Janet Hayes and Heidi Martin, and two designers, Joanna Nagel and Helen Tozar, who was formerly a designer for the Victoria’s Secret retail operation.
Officials at the Sara Lee Intimates division of Sara Lee Corp. and the Vanity Fair Intimates unit of VF Corp. — two major manufacturers said to be in discussions with Gap — were not available for comment Friday.
One source familiar with Gap’s plans, observed that while Gap sees the potential of intimate apparel business, “they’ve still got some issues to deal with.
“Their main issue is the people who are senior management — the ones who make the investment decisions — don’t appreciate the value potential of intimate apparel.
“Intimate apparel is a different type of business than sportswear with different lead times, turnaround and profitability of margin issues. It’s something they’ll need to understand.”
Noted another source, “What they are trying to do is not go after Victoria’s Secret head-on, or attack the sexy front. At Gap stores, you don’t see a ton of bright colors the way you do at Victoria’s Secret; you see lots of pastels and khaki. Gap is taking a young, fun approach.
“Gap Body could very well target Calvin Klein underwear,” the source said.
Suggested retail prices are expected to stay at a moderate level; bras sell in the low-$20s range.
The Lane Bryant retail division of The Limited Inc. is said to be interested in developing a chain of full-figure intimates shops.
“There’s been talk in the market for the past year,” said one source. “They’ve been very mum about this project. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have a two-to-three-year plan. They’ve already put together some product, which indicates to me that it’s more than just a strong interest.”
Officials at the Limited could not be reached.