Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — The abundance of sexy lingerie looks in ready-to-wear are expected to put more punch into innerwear business for late spring and summer.
That was the consensus of retailers and manufacturers at last week’s intimate apparel market. Although some retailers prefer to use the term “romantic” rather than sexy, executives agree the rtw designers are making consumers more lingerie-conscious and the time is ripe for more glamorous-looking products — specifically items that enhance curves and give breasts bigger play. Highly embellished daywear, sleepwear, bras and panties, particularly in reembroidered laces or allover laces, were among the top ideas at market, say merchants and vendors. Also getting a play were deep-cleavage necklines, lots of textured effects such as pleats or puckering that spotlight the bust, and opaque and sheer combinations that tease the eye.
The concept of bra wardrobing continues to grow as well, with vendors showing items that range from the well-hyped padded push-up bras to wear under plunging necklines, to seamless bras that give a smooth figure under knits. Bustiers also are making their mark under structured apparel, or as an item to wear out.
“If retailers are smart, they will be stocking up on the prettiest, sexiest lingerie looks next spring,” said Joan Kaner, vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “People will be shopping for bustiers and waist cinchers to wear under their dresses, jackets and unbuttoned blouses.”
Kaner further noted that the number of half-slips being shown on the runways was a good sign for the daywear industry next year.
“There’s definitely a lot that can be done,” she said.
Ron Roberts, a divisional merchandise manager at Jacobson Stores Inc., said “prettier, more feminine looks are setting the tone” in all the categories he oversees for Jacobson’s 10 Florida units — innerwear, accessories, shoes and home furnishings.
Laurie Black, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Nordstrom, Seattle, noted, “We have bought bustiers and corsets, and we are planning an ad campaign and major promotion on it next spring.”
Regarding cleavage-enhancing bra business, Black noted that a push-up number by Donna Karan Intimates was the number one selling style.
“It retails for $55, and it now all has to do with comfort,” said Black. “That’s why Donna’s bra is selling.”
Maria Montenapoleone, president of Montenapoleone, an upscale lingerie and swimwear boutique here, said, “My customers are looking for special items to wear under suits and eveningwear.”
The majority of her customers, she noted, wanted “soft, pretty, underdressing items,” such as embellished camisoles. She added that women were buying bustiers and Merry Widows primarily not for the sex appeal, but as control items to cinch in the ribcage and flatten tummies.
Exactly how all this excitement will translate into final orders remains to be seen. Orders for total programs for late spring and summer aren’t expected to be completed until January, and the market period itself continues to be less focused.
For example, vendors reported, divisional merchandisers and buyers from Mercantile Stores and Belk Stores Services came into the New York market to shop around. However, Belk has been calling vendors to its Charlotte, N.C. headquarters for eight years to finalize orders, and manufacturers are planning to make the trip this season as well. Mercantile occasionally sends its buyers to New York, but typically works with vendors at its corporate base in Fairfield, Ohio. This time, Mercantile sent its robe and sleepwear buyers to market.
Federated Department Stores moved up its preview visit here a week before market, but will continue to hold its “team buying sessions” the week after market. Vendors made their seasonal trip to Dillard’s Department Stores in Dallas the week before market. For the past couple of years, the Dillard’s review has been conducted the week after market.
A companywide sale at Nordstrom stores last week forced its divisional merchandisers and buyers to attend market week here a week earlier.
While all this is creating headaches for vendors in scheduling, their outlook for the season is robust. A number of retailers, manufacturers reported, did book special items early, such as waist cinchers, new looks in push-up bras, sexy-looking teddies, bodysuits and camisoles.
“We’ll have a phenomenal year next year in intimate apparel,” said Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group.
In addition to the soaring interest in push-up bras, women are realizing they will need a group of different bras, Wachner pointed out.
“There were a lot of knits and double-faced fabrics on the runways last week,” she said. “That requires a smooth look underneath, not padded, push-up cups.”
“Retailers and manufacturers are very optimistic about total innerwear business for holiday because of all of the cleavage-enhancing bra hype,” said Norman Katz, chairman of I. Appel Corp.
“I’m anticipating an extremely good holiday season, and spring bookings are satisfactory,” said Katz, who also is chairman of the Intimate Apparel Council. “Sleepwear business is much better. Daywear business has generally been difficult, but if you have young, pretty-looking merchandise, business is good.”
The growing popularity of lingerie-inspired looks in rtw — little slipdresses and baby dolls, sheer, cropped midriff tops, and a plethora of cleavage-enhancing bras and bustiers — began heating up innerwear business last spring, and the temperature was further lifted by the cleavage-enhancing bras.
In order to keep the momentum going, some firms are expanding their product range to attract high school and college-age women. These younger consumers, they say, are paying attention to lingerie for the first time because of all of the publicity.
Bra makers offered a broader range of cleavage-enhancing styles, some of which spotlight more lace and embellishments; others are pitching sleek and tailored dual-purpose bras in shiny nylon satin or cotton knit. The idea is to wear the items under jackets, or to the beach with coordinating bikini panties.
The ramifications of the cleavage craze have begun to surface in daywear with items such as unconstructed bustiers, and chemises and teddies with built-in molded or fiberfill padded cups.
Some sleepwear and at-homewear firms are taking their cue from the bevy of Empire looks, baby dolls and little slipdresses that are being shown on rtw runways. Here, the ideas are crossing over into long and short dual-purpose gowns in double-layered polyester georgette; allover stretch nylon and Lycra spandex lace; semisheer cotton gauze; more textured treatments in acrylic, and allover smooth blends of nylon and Lycra.
Sara Lee Corp.’s Nancy Brennick, director of merchandising for Bali and national spokeswoman for Wonderbra, said three new Wonderbra styles for spring have an “innerwear-outerwear look”: a floral pattern of brushed polyester; a denim style of cotton and Lycra trimmed cotton eyelet lace and a cheetah print of brushed polyester. D cup sizes also will be added.
“We think there is a lot of acceptability for innerwear-outerwear types of styling,” said Brennick, who also noted that the firm is introducing a line of swimwear under the Wonderbra label.
Sara Lee will be spending $5 million on a national marketing and advertising campaign for the Wonderbra this spring, according to a promotional brochure. The brochure noted that advertising and media hype of the Wonderbra reached 229 million consumers since its launch here in May.
Brennick further noted that a line called Un-d’s (pronounced undies) from Bali had gotten good reaction. The line is aimed at a younger consumer, from 16 to 21 years old, a group that tends to shop for lingerie at chains such as Victoria’s Secret, she said.
The line features an underwire bra, a soft-cup bra and a high-cut brief, all of Shimmereen nylon and Lycra in fashion colors. Soft-cup sizes are 32 to 36 A and B, and underwire cup sizes are 32 to 36 A and B, and 32 to 34 C.
Distribution is aimed at department stores, and retailers are considering selling the line in junior apparel departments, she said. Point-of-sale materials will include hangtags and brochures. A clear plastic accessories bag is being considered as the packaging.
Suggested retail prices for Un-d’s from Bali are $4.99 for the brief; $9.99 for the soft-cup bra and $11.99 for the underwire style.
“The younger consumer definitely is interested in lingerie, more than she’s ever been before,” said Brennick. “If we can get this customer interested in this product, we will have a customer in the future for the Bali brand.”
Wachner of Warnaco said a group of padded, push-up underwire bras under the Not So Innocent Nudes by Warner’s label has been getting “excellent reaction.”
The bras wholesale for $12 and are a spinoff of molded, seamless bras by Not So Innocent Nudes introduced in March. Five body-tone colors are shell pink, toffee, body cocoa, body beige and black coffee.
The bottom half of each cup features 7-ounce fiberfill padding, and the top half has 5-ounce fiberfill padding.
Gwen Widell, Warnaco’s senior vice president of merchandising and design worldwide, said the new group “gives the push and swell needed for a padded, push-up bra, but it has a smooth, soft surface.”
A packaged line of panties under the Not So Innocent Nudes label will be delivered to department stores in three weeks, said Maurice Reznik, president of Warner’s. He said the introduction is expected to help double Warner’s panties business next year.
Wachner added that an all-in-one bra sleep gown by Olga is being reintroduced for holiday selling. The concept had been created by the late Olga Erteszek, Olga’s founder, over 35 years ago, and has not been on the line for several years.
The bra gown features lace-embellished, padded, push-up cups, and a skirt of nylon and Lycra. Long and short styles wholesale for $23.52 and $18.72, respectively.
A private label style is currently being featured in the holiday Dream Catalog by Victoria’s Secret, said Wachner.
Carola Bernota, U.S. manager of Paris-based Lou Lingerie, an overseas unit of VF Corp., noted, “Retailers are definitely asking for more fashion colors in bras and panties than they were a year ago.”
Bernota said a top-booking idea for spring is a molded push-up bra of nylon Levers lace with removable straps by Lou. The bra wholesales for $35. The top color is khaki.
“The color gives it a look of sportswear, and it’s meant to be worn out,” said Bernota.
Howard Radziminsky, vice president of sales at the Cinema Etoile division at Movie Star Inc., noted, “We have gotten a lot of requests for daywear and sleepwear items with molded or padded, push-up cups.”
As a result, the firm is doing a cleavage-enhancing bustier with coordinating panties and a thong-back teddy in crushed satin. The firm plans to label the item as the “CineMagic.” Both styles feature lots of lace trim and embroideries. The bra theme also is being done in sleepwear in printed and solid polyester satin charmeuse.
Radziminsky predicted that it will be a “great spring” for allover stretch lace, especially little sheer stretch T-shirts and bodysuits with short and long sleeves.
“The whole idea of soft layering and slipdresses with little tops are expected to be more important for us next year,” he said.
At Periphery, Nancy Lewis, sales manager of the loungewear maker, said, “We are picking up a lot of new business with daytime dress buyers, especially from catalogs.”
The dual-purpose items, many of which have Empire treatments, feature prints and textures in stretch cotton terry and semisheer cotton gauze, she said.

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