PARIS — New lines rather than hot trends made the big news at the recent edition of the Salon International de la Lingerie (SIL) here.
Headliners included the European introduction of the lingerie collection by the swimwear specialist Gottex, as well as the new Vanity Fair collection created especially for Europe by VF Corp.
American representation among exhibitors increased with the arrival of Chris Arlotta Enterprises, Dernier Chic with its Linda Aaron Lifestyles collection, and Maidenform’s Flexees line, all from New York. Coton Blanc from Vernon, Calif., was also a newcomer.
The four-day SIL, at the Porte de Versailles center, ran through Jan. 31. In all, there were 304 exhibitors, an increase of 10 percent compared with January 1994, and they showed 407 brands, up about 3 percent.
The total number of visitors was flat with last year at 17,127. The number of non-French visitors rose, however, 13.3 percent to 6,547.
French attendance dropped 5 percent, a reflection of the continued glum economy here. American visitors totaled 228, showing an increase of nearly 17 percent compared with last year. Italy boasted the greatest number of foreign visitors at the show with 1,189, up 28.4 percent. But South Koreans doubled their attendance to 145 compared with last year.
The search for new ideas in silhouettes or looks was not always productive, however, according to some buyers.
“I don’t see any particular trends,” said Vicky Philippi, a buyer for the Nancy Meyer fine lingerie shop in Seattle, Wash. “Plus, the dollar is weak right now against the franc. That scares me a bit.”
One group from a major American retailer complained there was a lot of repetition among brands and noted that nightwear selections had been significantly reduced.
Jos Berry, a marketing consultant and director of Paris-based fashion consultancy Concepts, also observed that there was an overdose of similar design at the SIL. On the other hand, she praised the uses of new fibers and fabric treatments.
Meanwhile, presiding over the European debut of the Gottex Lingerie collection, Lea Gottlieb, the founder and chairman of Tel Aviv-based Gottex Models, said: “I wanted to do this for a long time. Of our 4,000 clients worldwide, roughly half carry lingerie, and they always asked us to do a collection.”
The line is made up of about 100 pieces, ranging from foundations to elegant peignoirs, and is available in four colors. Average wholesale prices in Europe are roughly $37 for bras, $28 for panties and $47 for bodysuits. The most expensive piece is a long robe in polyester satin and lace, which wholesales for $131.
“It’s the same quality as the bathing suits, but we are using different fabrics,” Gottlieb said of the innerwear collection. Some details, however, are the same. For example, the Taj Mahal pattern in the current swimsuit line was picked up for lingerie, but in a different color scheme.
For the first season, the lingerie is being marketed exclusively in Europe, although a handful of U.S. boutiques will test the line starting this spring. New York-based Gottex Industries is studying the line for U.S. distribution to start with the next collection, which will be shown in New York in November.
VF Corp. had a huge stand at the SIL for its new European Vanity Fair collection.
“Buyers like it, and they understand the message,” said Laure Anfriani, the brand manager for the Paris-based line. “What they really like is to find the same look for a 32A as for a 40D, even when the product structure is different for the larger size.”
Anfriani said that VF Corp. is studying the possibility of launching their version of Vanity Fair in the U.S. at the upper level of the market.
Some of the first-time American exhibitors at the SIL in the fashion-oriented Dessous Expression section were enthusiastic about their results.
“I like the fashion sense of a French show,” said Marc Weintraub, president of Dernier Chic. “Since we are more of a designer line, we thought we would do well here, and it worked.”
Weintraub said the firm’s Linda Aaron Lifestyles collection was picked up by new clients in France, Spain and Italy.
Chris Arlotta was at her first European show ever showing the new Arlotta line.
“Our collection is 20 to 30 percent cheaper here than in the U.S., because the fabrics are European and the line is made in Italy,” she said. “For Europe, we are shipping from Italy FOB.”
Her bestsellers have been her pieces in crepe viscose, she noted, adding she was familiar with SIL from work earlier in her career. “It is the best show for lingerie,” she asserted.
For four-year-old Coton Blanc, it was also the first time ever at a European trade show.
“We wanted to see how it was in Europe, and this is the most important show,” said Elisabeth Weinstock, the president and creative director for the firm, which specializes in cotton pontelle pieces. “But I clearly need to do a more elaborate stand,” she added, being surrounded by fancy booths from big makers like France’s Lejaby, which had a stage for mini fashion shows.
“For us, we noticed that small shops here are reluctant to order an imported [non-European] product,” added the firm’s designer, Nathalie Beuetière.
The good news, though, at SIL was that Coton Blanc established contact with buyers from Paris’s Printemps department store chain.
Among the French exhibitors, luxury innerwear company Alice Cadolle, headquartered on Paris’s rue Cambon, was spotlighting the trend to corsets and corset-inspired lingerie and is betting on these products to develop their U.S. business. The company sold to American department and specialty stores starting in 1935, up until the early Eighties. After a hiatus, Cadolle returned in 1991, opening a custom foundations boutique at Bergdorf Goodman. In 1993, Cadolle did the same with Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills.
The firm showed about 50 models of outerwear corsets in rich fabrics like quilted silk, silk brocades and jacquards, and velvet. Wholesale prices in the U.S. range from $195 to $286.
Cadolle has also been trying to sell its ready-made lingerie collection in the U.S., in addition to its dressy outerwear corsets, but it has been tough going.
“American women don’t understand the concept of expensive bras and panties,” said Poupie Cadolle, the president of Alice Cadolle, “They don’t like to spend on something you can’t see, compared to French women who buy to pamper themselves.”
She noted that American women will buy what they call “special occasion” lingerie. “But that’s for someone else [to make],” she laughed. “Until six months ago, I thought ‘special occasion’ meant for going out!”
Other show highlights included DuPont’s huge marketing and education program for Lycra spandex, which included well-attended daily fashion show-seminars and focus presentations to explain things like the use of microfiber and how to make textronic laces.
“Previously, we have simply had a Lycra exhibition.
This time, we are trying to educate buyers, especially those from mom-and-pop stores, about it,” said Paul de Belay, the Lycra spandex manager for France and Belgium. “Awareness about it is one thing, but comprehension is another.”
Concurrently with SIL, there was a look ahead to spring-summer 1996 at the adjacent Interfilière materials show, where the forecast was for a luxurious season, with a heavy emphasis on comfort.