Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — If it has a look of fashion, fits like a second skin and has a certain value, Bloomingdale’s can’t get enough of it to satisfy consumer demand, said James Gundell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of intimate apparel, shoes and fashion accessories.
Gundell was interviewed at the Bloomingdale’s flagship here with Stephanie Zernik Doroff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel. Both executives agreed that a stronger focus on fashion, as well as a proliferation of new products, have kept innerwear business hopping at the 21 Bloomingdale’s units for 1/2 years.
“A fashion presence keeps customers coming back, and it gives women a reason to buy,” said Doroff. “Nine times out of 10, a new development in the innerwear market — a certain strap on a bra, an anti-cling fabric on a daywear item, or a butt-boosting shaper — has been key in building business. And, as a result, we are partnering even more with our key resources.”
Illustrating how the pace of fashion has accelerated, Gundell noted that the 10 top-selling bras had consistently been the same basic styles from national brands for a couple of years. But then, six months ago, five basic styles fell off the all-star list and were replaced by labels that featured fashion as well as comfort and fit. He would not identify the brands.
“They blew in and blew out,” Doroff interjected, noting that the number-one-selling bra is a “bridge resource,” a label that is not promotional and sells at full suggested retail.
“The bra is nude, so it means it can be worn under sheer apparel, and it has contoured cups that are seamless and padded,” she said. “We sold 110 units out of 1,200 in three days — and it wasn’t even advertised. The consumer clearly responded to the newness.”
But while Doroff noted that the demand for newness has been “dramatic,” she added, “The market is having a problem shipping the newness because of the demand. Even companies that haven’t had production problems overall can’t keep up with the production.”
“It’s really been amazing,” Doroff continued. “The old adage was it took a little longer for a new bra style to take off. But with trends such as seamless, contour and padding, and certain underwire styles, customers are returning to buy more of the new styles.”
For fall, consumers can expect to see a lot more fashion, designer merchandise, and specialty items like shapewear and seamless, molded-cup bras, Gundell said.
“We are getting behind our core businesses and making power statements on the floor with the amount of linear footage and location,” Gundell said. “It’s no secret that intimate apparel is one of the most profitable, high-margin lines of business at stores.”
A good part of the power statement within innerwear departments will be done with storewide in-store shop concepts to showcase innerwear as a collection — specifically designer merchandise, he said.
“We will go into the fall with Ralph Lauren Intimates, which will have a strong shop dominance as well as store windows,” Gundell added, noting that the established Calvin Klein in-store shops have “obviously been a powerful force.”
“Designers understand how to get it right better. Designers have said, ‘This is how we have to go about it — how we can max the business by merchandising it properly and doing shop concepts,”‘ Gundell said.
Other key resources include Natori, Christian Dior, Wacoal, Warner’s and the licensed Donna Karan Intimates by Wacoal.
“Donna Karan already has an important place on the [flagship] floor, but we will be putting a greater emphasis on Donna’s sleepwear to make it more important,” Gundell noted.
Regarding shop areas within the innerwear department, Doroff observed: “For younger customers, it’s not so overwhelming — before it was a sea of undies and bras — ugh! Now, we’ve created environments so they don’t have to weed through things.” Key resources aimed at younger consumers include Calvin Klein, Joe Boxer Girlfriend and Natori II, she said.
Asked if Bloomingdale’s plans to give more space to innerwear, Gundell replied, “The walls can’t go out any further on 59th Street. But as we have remodeled branch stores over the past two and three years, innerwear departments individually have received 6,000 to 8,000 more square footage.
“Senior management,” said Gundell, “definitely has taken more of an interest in intimate apparel, because it’s much more of a fashion-driven business than ever before. And, of course, it’s highly profitable.”

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