SLEEPWEAR STAYS UP
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — Out to lure wary retailers and consumers, vendors say they’ll be showing an abundance of extra detailing, embellishments and textures at this week’s market in sleepwear, robes and panties.
Despite good sell-throughs of these categories at stores last month, makers say, an air of uncertainty hangs over the market because of the generally dismal pace of the holiday season at retail. They expect stores to be doling out their dollars in careful fashion as they put together transitional and early fall orders. Some vendors, though, are confident enough to project gains, although mainly in low single digits.
Vendors also noted it also will be catch-up time for retailers to finalize spring bookings. In some cases, only 50 percent of these expected bookings were completed at the November market.
Adding to the tensions of the market, stores will be busy comparing the manufacturers’ branded lines to their own private labels, noted some vendors.
Nonetheless, manufacturers agreed that retailers will invest in goods that are special looking, as well as brands that have a proven track record.
January traditionally is a key market for warmwear imports, especially flannels, brushed-back satins and thermals. This year is no exception. But in the effort to capitalize on what vendors see as a demand for different-looking merchandise, they will be offering more items with novelty treatments, whether it’s in expanded ranges of textures, including such ideas as acrylic jersey, brushed cotton knits or thermal waffle patterns, or in such detailing as pearl trims. Unusual prints will be getting a bigger play at some firms, and bright colors are expected to make some headway in daywear.
In March, makers will expand their warmwear presentations with domestic goods that don’t require as much lead time for deliveries.
Here’s what manufacturers were saying as they looked to this week’s market.
Norman Katz, chairman of I. Appel Corp., said, “In all of my years of doing business, this appears to be the most difficult market to predict. It’s mainly because consumers are more careful about how they’re spending their money.
“But it’s a very important market for planning opening dollars for ’96. For well-priced items, you need early commitments so you can produce goods at lower costs,” said Katz.
Katz said he wasn’t “prepared yet” to make a sales projection for fall, but estimated spring orders are about 4 percent ahead of a year ago. More than half of overall orders for spring have been finalized, he said.
The Appel firm produces sleepwear and robes under the Appel label.
Regarding daywear, Katz said the panties segment at the Myonne operation was “very strong in ’95.”
“For ’96, it’s just a question of updating the novelty looks that were successful last year with lots of special-looking trims and elastic finishes,” said Katz.
At Miss Elaine, Marc Seldin, president and chairman, said, “This is a very big market for us for warmwear. I’ll be showing all facets of imported warmwear — from brushed-back satins to flannels and knits.”
The St. Louis-based company manufactures sleepwear and robes under the Miss Elaine label, and daywear and sleepwear by Colette.
Seldin further noted that the beginning of the year is crucial because “department stores will be looking at brands and comparing them to their private label offerings.”
“That’s when they’ll decide where they’ll put their money,” said Seldin.
John Kourakos, president of the Calvin Klein men’s underwear and accessories and women’s innerwear division of The Warnaco Group, noted, “We’ll be meeting with top management of stores in January to show concept boards of the new Calvin Klein sleepwear collection for women.
“Store management has been pressing us for a sleepwear collection, and we wanted them to see the potential of it before it’s introduced at the March market.”
Kourakos added that there will be 12 additional “full blown” Calvin Klein innerwear boutiques at major stores in March, totalling 20. There currently are about 1,000 smaller Calvin Klein “designer areas” for innerwear nationwide, he said.
Victor Lee, chief financial officer of NAP Inc., maker of sleepwear and robes by NAP Essentials and Anne Lewin, noted, “We generally won’t get any feedback about Christmas from retailers until this week. Our orders have been good. Robes still are a very strong item, but we don’t really know how business will shape up this week.
“It’s a tough call,” continued Lee. “Retailers are playing their cards very close to the vest right now.”
Josie Natori, co-chairman of Natori Co., said, “Overall business at stores has been tough, but our sleepwear business was better than last Christmas.”
“If it’s different, special looking — it sells,” said Natori, noting that fashion looks and dual-purpose items are the top-selling ideas in sleepwear and at-homewear.
Regarding new product for transitional selling, Natori singled out several ideas: the introduction of acrylic jersey knit at-homewear in the Josie line that has a seasonless look; expanded daywear items in bright “Taj Mahal-inspired” shantung silks, such as bustiers and camisoles in the Natori line, and two “special-value” warmwear groups of sleepwear and robes in the Natori and Eve Stillman lines.
“We used to do warmwear exclusives for stores, but this will be the first time we will be offering warmwear to all retailers,” said Natori.
Kathy Weir, executive vice president of sales at Carole Hochman Designs Inc., noted, “I think the key is we have to diversify. Everybody is doing the same thing in cotton knit sleepwear.
“We’ll be diversifying our knits in the Carole Hochman collection with prints and novelty treatments like brushed terry and interlock, and rib-pattern and pointille thermals,” said Weir.
Weir further noted that new novelty prints will be added to the Hochman sleepwear collection for transition and early fall.
“We also are gearing up for March with a full line of printed and solid satin sleepwear,” she said.
As for projected sales gains, Weir, who also oversees the licensed Christian Dior sleepwear, estimated single-digit increases over a year ago.
“We’ll be taking a very new approach to prints and colors in the Christian Dior [sleepwear] collection,” said Bea Voorheis, vice president of merchandising for the Carole Hochman and Christian Dior lines.
Voorheis said the Dior sleepwear line for transition and early fall will feature less shirring than in the past and will generally appear “more contemporary.”
Sheila Solomon, national sales manager of Priamo Designs Inc., said the firm is introducing this week its first group of plaid cotton batiste sleepwear for transition.
“Going into a transitional market, manufacturers are never really sure about what to show,” said Solomon. “But I think the cotton batiste plaids will be pretty and different looking, and they’ll merchandise well with the white batiste sleepwear items on the selling floor.”
The multicolor palette for the new plaid is navy, black, white and green.
Wholesale prices were not set at press time, but should average around $42 for long sleepgowns to $46 for sleepshirts. Coordinating short and long robes with contrasting white Venise lace trim will be between $50 and $60, respectively.
Scott French, a designer of C’est Cool sleepwear at Richard Leeds International, said contemporary novelty looks will be a big part of the moderate line for summer and transition.
“We’ll be doing ginghams rather than men’s wear-inspired flannel tartans, because department stores do so much private label in tartans,” said French. The gingham sleepwear will be available in red and white and blue and white combinations and will feature white daisy trim.
There also will be a group in black and white gingham with heart applique trim, he said.
“We’ll also be showing immediate, because of the demand,” said French.
At Deena Inc., Los Angeles, Rick Horwitch, president of marketing, merchandising and sales, noted, “We’re moving away from flannels and into brushed knits. We’ll be showing a big collection of double-brushed, novelty warmwear knits in textures such as thermal waffle patterns.”
Horwitch further noted that the firm plans to expand assortments of large sizes in its established sleepwear and daywear lines under the Deena, Lucie Anna and Lucie Ann II labels.
“It’s a niche that has lots of potential,” said Horwitch.
“We are looking to give consumers more value for their money, and we’ll be offering more intrinsic value in our warmwear by featuring more detailing,” said Sue Molle, vice president of merchandising at O’Bryan Bros., Chicago.
Among the enhanced details will be a generous amount of applique lace and pearl trims, she said.
“A good deal of our warmwear will be more elaborate than in the past,” she continued. “We’ve tried to make it a balance of pretty, embroidered, romantic looks, as well as tailored, sporty looks.”
The O’Bryan firm makes sleepwear and warmwear under the CuddlDuds and Lorraine labels.