INNERWEAR: FASHION PACES A ROBUST MARKET

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Coming off a strong 1996, innerwear manufacturers generally expect business to continue chugging ahead at a healthy pace this year.
A primary reason is heightened consumer awareness of intimate apparel as fashion — not just a basic commodity.
The outlook for innerwear appears upbeat for 1997. NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm, which put 1995 retail innerwear volume at $9.1 billion, computed a 13.1 percent increase for this year’s first half.
For spring and summer, innerwear retailers generally said they bought more color, more luxurious-looking merchandise and as many new products as their budgets allowed.
“We simply want more new product. There just isn’t enough out there,” said Bob Pawlak, vice president and general merchandise manager of intimate apparel and other areas at Carson Pirie Scott.
“There’s more of a demand for upscale merchandise in the better and designer area,” said Sue Flynn, intimate apparel buyer of Jacobson’s 11 units in Florida.
And Joseph Boitano, vice president and general merchandise manager of Bergdorf Goodman, said “a greater interest than usual in luxury lingerie” is expected to keep innerwear business at Bergdorf’s hopping this year.
Innerwear vendors say they feel bullish about business this year, based on sales of fashion goods during Christmas, as well as updated basics that have a fashion edge.
Sizing up the general outlook of manufacturers, Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Warnaco Group, stated: “I think we are going to have spectacular January-through-June sales. Everything is strong, the way we planned.”
In Las Vegas, most makers plan to show spring assortments, but it also will be a strategic time to preview early fall and fall concepts, before the March 10-14 innerwear market in Manhattan.
Some vendors, though, say WWDMagic presents an opportunity to network with top retail management, which has become increasingly interested in innerwear as a profitable, high-margin business.
Besides fashion merchandise, vendors expect other hot tickets at the show to be brands and designer names, and expanded assortments of specialty sizes.
Another major area of interest is the demand for control as well as comfort, especially in cotton goods, which are expected to continue pumping up sales in the first half — in line with figures already generated over the last year.
According to NPD, overall retail sales of shapewear from 1994 to 1996 reported a 33.7 percent increase, totaling some $3.2 million. Assortments have been expanded dramatically in the last two years to include a wider variety of control briefs, all-in-one body briefers and waist cinchers. A number of these styles feature knit-in spot control features for problem areas, like the tummy or thighs.
In sleepwear, there’s a movement toward junior or junior-looking items in whimsical, over-the-edge prints like pin-up girls, poodles or ice cubes, and novelty fabrics like soft, brushed-back flannels, thermals and satins.
Key silhouettes in the junior league: footed or footless, full-length union suits; oversized sleep shirts and boxers, and pajama sets.
One sleepwear firm getting into the junior act is Charles Komar & Sons here, which introduced a junior line called Planet Sleep in January. Another Manhattan-based company, NAP Inc., will unveil a licensed line of junior sleepwear bearing the XOXO label in May.
Meanwhile, makers say they plan to do one-on-one meetings with senior retail executives in Las Vegas.
“We’ve received a lot of attention from upper store management at the MAGIC show,” said Eddie Betesh, chairman and ceo of Intimate Resources Inc.
Betesh said he plans to discuss space within innerwear departments, noting there has been more focus on maximizing innerwear business, but retailers are focused on existing space — not more space.
As for overall business, Betesh said, “Our licensed character business is zooming, and junior looks continue to be very hot.”
Maurice Setton, president of Vandale Industries, said, “Basically, it’s a lot of PR for us to show at MAGIC, and we show directional trends to a lot of upper store management.”
Setton singled out “different-looking colors, fabrics and fabric treatments” as top-selling ideas the company expects will continue to fuel sales. Coordinating bra and panty sets also are key, he said.
“Reaction was very strong to pannAs for fall and holiday, and we introduced pannA bras and coordinating panties in pastel shades for spring,” Setton said. Spring bookings are 15 percent ahead of last year, he added, and holiday was “phenomenal,” with a 25 percent gain.

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