Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Last week’s innerwear market proved to be anticlimatic, as buyers and senior store management reviewed spring and summer merchandise for the second — in some cases, the third — time.
Vendors expressed concern over a possible fallout of smaller, moderate resources, as the appetite for better and luxury goods fills innerwear departments. However, vendors generally believe national brands — the big breadwinners — will continue to hold their ground.
While orders aren’t expected to be completed for another two to three weeks, retailers were clear on several points: They said they plan to order more color, more fashion and as many fresh products as their budgets allow.
Stores generally attributed their willingness to buy more innovative goods to strong sell-throughs this fall of items that had a fashion edge. A prime target: upscale brands and designer labels showcased as collection concepts through in-store shops.
Bob Pawlak, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Carson Pirie Scott, said, “We simply are looking for more new product. There just isn’t enough.
“We plan to do [innerwear] designer shop concepts in a big way,” he said, but declined to provide specifics.
He did acknowledge, though, that the Calvin Klein Underwear and Marilyn Monroe by Warner’s collections — both by The Warnaco Group — were “key resources.”
“There’s more of a demand for upscale merchandise, and I’m looking for more options in the better and designer area,” said Sue Flynn, intimate apparel buyer for Jacobson’s 11 units in Florida.
Flynn noted better-price Wacoal bras continue to be the number-one seller, but added that Chantelle, an upscale French brand, recently has become the second most popular bra brand at Florida units.
Rebecca Apsan, owner of La Petite Coquette, singled out “sexy-looking push-up bras by Gossard” as her best-selling items this fall.
“I’m reordering several of Gossard’s strapless bra styles, because they give great support, and they’re terrific for women who don’t have much of a bustline — as well as those who sag a bit,” Apsan said.
Key classifications for spring and summer are seamless and full-figure bras; daywear items such as camisoles and coordinating panties; highly embellished sleep gowns that have a romantic, bridal look; novelty prints, especially in sleepwear, and spa-inspired robes.
Shapewear items that target trouble spots like bloated midriffs and sagging behinds were in big demand. And microfiber blends that have a lightweight, suede-like hand were a key idea in foundations, as well as in daywear.
Regarding the influx of designer labels, Lee A. Chaden, chairman and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimates, which makes Ralph Lauren Underwear under license, said, “It’s every department store’s dream to have designer lines and unpromoted brands in very narrow distribution.
“To my knowledge, the designer segment still has been very small in relationship to the total [innerwear] business,” Chaden said. “The major source, so far, has been Calvin Klein. But I think Polo Ralph Lauren will be significant, and there will be a total program with the designer’s imprint.”
(Halston Intimates is the latest designer name to take aim at innerwear departments. See story, page 12.)
As reported, distribution of the Ralph Lauren Underwear collection is scheduled for early 1997.
Hayward R. Gipson, president of Playtex Apparel, said Sara Lee’s Playtex brand probably would not be affected. “It shouldn’t have any effect on packaged programs like Playtex, because packaged goods are so space-efficient.”
Gipson further noted Playtex will do a “major launch” in January of a packaged line of full-figure bras called Body Language by Playtex.
“We tested the idea for a year with consumer focus groups,” Gipson said. “The classification has tremendous potential.”
Gipson would not elaborate, but full-figure bras appear to be a strategic direction at Sara Lee. As reported, the corporation announced at its annual meeting this month that it is counting on fuller-figured women to push sales of its Just My Size label from $200 million this year to $1 billion by as early as 1999.
Berna Goldstein, executive director of the licensed Donna Karan Intimates at Wacoal America, said retail space will become a “big issue” for smaller, moderate resources.
“I think there is going to be a lot of pressure in the stores for [innerwear] space,” Goldstein said. “Lingerie departments aren’t like sportswear, which go on and on. They’re finite spaces, and the major buying groups like Dillard’s and Federated are aggressively building their businesses with additional better and designer resources.”
Laney Thornton, chief executive officer of San Francisco Mercantile Co., said the space crunch would have consequences.
“I foresee the demise of a lot of moderate resources,” Thornton said. “Some gorillas are coming into the market with designer labels. Basically, all they’re doing is trying to sell T-shirts, items that produce the highest-grossing margins in the business.
“But it takes a while for new concepts to develop themselves, and new merchandise in a new shop area often is the hardest thing to sell. The stores end up with aggressive clutter that distracts them from high-value, intricately designed merchandise.”
San Francisco Mercantile makes sleepwear by Eileen West and Lanz.
Richard Leeds, chairman of Richard Leeds International, maker of the moderate-to-better French Jenny label, sees it this way: “What it all boils down to is a lot of moderate people are not offering anything new. Retailers are starved for new concepts, and the moderate market is doing the same old thing it’s always done. That’s why retailers are passing some companies over for spring.”
Victor Lee, chief operating officer at NAP Inc., observed, “If smaller, niche brands provide good design and quality at a good price, they’ll continue to exist.”