INNERWEAR: LOOKING LUXE
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — As intimate apparel continues to be a hot commodity at retail, one message is coming through loud and clear: Upscale looks, plush fabrics, big brands and top designer names are driving the business.
Fashion, they say, is a major factor.
That’s the general consensus of innerwear retailers from different tiers of distribution, as they look ahead to trends in 1997. Despite lackluster apparel business at stores during Christmas, merchants at major department and specialty stores typically described intimate apparel sales as “good to terrific,” and generally expect the healthy pace to continue this year.
Manufacturers say many of the luxe looks and novelty items that received strong reaction at the Jan. 6-10 innerwear market here are expected to generate excitement at WWDMagic in Las Vegas.
Among the top sleepwear and at-homewear ideas for spring and summer are long and short pajama sets, lightweight, spa-inspired cotton terry wrap robes and pretty, lace-embellished peignoirs in semisheer cottons and layered chiffons and georgettes. Sexy-looking little chemises are a red-hot classification.
Special treatments, like miniature logos, interesting buttons and fancy-looking appliques and embroideries, enhanced the added-value appeal of the merchandise, makers said.
Some vendors also hope to preview early fall ideas as well in Las Vegas. Many will expand on bestsellers from the holidays. Key classifications include velvet or velour; novelty flannels in over-the-edge prints, such as lips, ice cubes and poodles, and warm, cozy fabrics like brushed-back satins and thermals. Pricier fabrics in cashmere and silk also received strong reaction.
“We had a really exciting season with luxury lingerie, more so than usual. That’s what was really interesting for us,” said Joseph Boitano, vice president and general merchandise manager at Bergdorf Goodman.
Stephanie Zernik, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s, noted: “We had a terrific season with robes. We also did very well with mother-daughter presentations of sleepwear and robes, and novelty flannels were a key classification.”
At J.C. Penney Co., Elaine Duke, robe and leisurewear buyer, singled out luxe-looking cotton velour robes as bestsellers. And Dennis Warden, vice president and general merchandise manager of the catalog division of Frederick’s of Hollywood, said, “Anything that shapes the figure blew out. We expect that to continue in 1997.”
Since 1994 — when the appetite for cleavage was catapulted into the national spotlight by Wonderbra and a host of Wonderbra wannabes — specialty bras have become a star category.
Another big factor is the graying of America — baby boomers are experiencing middle-age spread, with sagging bustlines and expanding waistlines — thus creating a huge potential for control items. Key items offer spot control in other problem areas, like protruding tummies, drooping derrieres and jiggling thighs. Long-line bras, which flatten ripples of back fat, also are growing in popularity, as well as bras that hold in unsightly side-spillage.
Top bra classifications include:
Seamless, molded styles to wear underneath knits and T-shirts, for an allover smooth silhouette.
Full-figured styles — from generous cup sizes in the DD range or larger for full-busted women to band sizes in the 40-or-more range for plus-size women.
Bras that address a growing emphasis on comfort — whether they are soft-cup or underwire styles, unconstructed daywear styles or performance-oriented sports bras.
Cotton, as well as lightweight, performance-fiber blends with DuPont’s Lycra spandex and Tactel nylon, or UltraTouch by BASF.
“Anything that’s new and different in novelty fabrics like velvets, corduroys, pannAs and slinky nylon and Lycra are hot,” said Maurice Setton, president of Vandale Industries. “Charmeuse continues to be strong, and whimsical prints have gotten good reaction.
“Retailers — from national chains to discounters and junior specialty chains — are now all doing fashion coordinates at promotional prices,” Setton added. The company has introduced more bras and coordinating panties in plus-sizes, because of increased demand over the past few years.
In addition to private label, Vandale manufactures and distributes bras and panties under the Vandale and Erica James labels, as well as three licensees — Sasson, Melrose Place and Baywatch.
Regarding daywear and panties, Eddie Betesh, chief executive officer of Intimate Resources Inc., said: “Junior looks are all over the place. It’s a trend that’s hot in ready-to-wear, and that’s what’s happening in all of our underwear lines.”
Key prints include geometrics with oversized florals, yarn-dyed stripes, puppies, bears and frogs, many of which featured little appliquAs. The best-selling silhouette in cotton or cotton and spandex is a bikini style, followed by a hipster look and a boy-leg style, he said.
Intimate Resources produces and distributes daywear and panties by Max & Eddie, Forbidden Moments and six licensees — Everlast, Jordache, Mickey & Co., Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Unlimited and Looney Tunes.
“We coordinate a lot of the panties with skimpy little daywear tops, like a tank with spaghetti straps, and bralets,” Betesh said. Overall, he noted, fashion has been driving the business.
As for the action in the specialty accessories and lingerie arena, Pegi Marcantonio, national sales director of Damin Industries Inc., said a new style of flap-top shoulder pad by Stay-Put has been successful.
“The pad flaps over the bra strap. It keeps the straps in place and the pads don’t move,” said Marcantonio. “The shoulder pads — dolman rounded or wedge-shaped — do give a woman a more professional silhouette, and they slim the waistline.
“They also seem to be getting more popular because of the ‘Evita’ look,” Marcantonio said. She added that the firm’s newest venture, a line of novelty daywear tops called Front Street, has been well received because the tops can be worn with ready-to-wear.