Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Bestform Group Inc. — one of the few remaining privately held foundations firms left in the industry — is said to be in talks with two suitors: VF Corp. and Sara Lee Corp.
It is unclear, though, whether talks involve a branded segment of the Bestform business, or the company itself, sources say.
But whatever the target is, Bestform has a smorgasbord of brands which are sold in mass circles as well as major chains and department and specialty stores.
However, reports were widespread throughout intimate apparel circles last week that Bestform was listening to proposals.
In an industry that has been rocked by several major consolidations as well as a major bankruptcy, sources say the 72-year-old Bestform would be a good fit with a corporate entity looking to expand market share with a diversified arsenal of brands.
Reached at Bestform’s headquarters in Long Island City, N.Y., last week, Marvin Bienenfeld, Bestform chairman and chief executive officer, said, “I can’t discuss anything.”
A spokeswoman for VF had no comment, and the corporate spokesman for Sara Lee in Chicago could not be reached.
VF has made it no secret that it’s looking for acquisitions that would either add a product capability or a brand. As reported, VF signed a letter of intent to acquire Maidenform in March, but the two companies mutually agreed to abort the deal in April.
Following several years of financial hardship after Maidenform’s ill-fated acquisition of NCC Industries/Lilyette in late 1994, Maidenform filed Chapter 11 last July.
Sara Lee’s last major innerwear acquisition in the U.S. was Playtex in late 1991, a move that set off an alarm to the industry that corporate America was moving in.
Most of the mergers and acquisitions action, though, has been generated by Warnaco Group over the past 3 1/2 years: Warnaco purchased the Calvin Klein underwear business in 1994; GJM, a Hong Kong-based maker of private label sleepwear that was part of Cygne Designs, in February 1996, and in July 1996, purchased Lejaby-Euralis SA, a French maker of foundations and swimwear, and Body Slimmers Inc., a New York-based shapewear specialist.
Bestform — whose moderate-price Bestform division generated estimated sales of more than $200 million in 1996 — would be handsome addition with its stable of high-profile brands. In 1995, Bienenfeld said an expanded product line that included fashion items and specialty products, such as sports bras, would generate “conservative” sales increases of $25 million yearly.
The Bestform division — which distributes its products to mass merchants like Caldor, where it has close to 90 Bestform in-store shops, and major chains such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. — comprises the Enhance label; the Exquisite Form brand, and three licensees: Chic, Gitano and Lady Manhattan. Bestform acquired Exquisite Form, a $30 million dollar bra label, in 1996.
In addition to its moderate-price lines, the company produces, markets and distributes foundations under the Lily of France name and licensees Christian Dior, Natori and Josie. Bestform also has the Gilda Marx name in sports bras, bodywear and activewear, which it acquired last year.

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