KICKING OFF THE YEAR WITH NEW IDEAS

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Intimate apparel vendors are getting ready for a bumpy ride at this week’s fall-holiday market.
Despite reports that fashion lingerie and traditional staples such as flannel and brushed-back satin sleepwear and robes fared well during a disappointing Christmas selling season, makers generally said they are somewhat optimistic, but with a fair degree of caution.
While January typically is an in-between market — a time when retailers parley markdown money and focus on major warmwear programs — it appears that this edition will be a barometer for the rest of the year, in terms of business and fashion direction.
Makers expect retailers will be unforgiving when it comes to brands and products that underperformed over the holidays, and merchants most likely are expected to be lenient with labels that earned kudos on the selling floor.
As a result, manufacturers will be offering up a spread of creative ideas to stimulate retail enthusiasm and hopefully open up pocketbooks. A key classification will be young contemporary — either branded or private label — a line of business retailers hope to develop as an alternative to megabrands.
Top ideas include:
A wide range of luxury fabrics such as cashmere, silks and Lycra blends styled in a casual manner like notch-collar pajamas, which are traditionally done in cotton flannel.
Nonstop embellishments from sequins, beading and appliques to fake fur, rosettes and ribbons, along with loads of lavish lace trim.
Animal prints and motifs that have a contemporary spin, such as spaced leopard spots and exotic tiger lily appliques in a tiger pattern.
Plaids with a more feminine twist in touches of pale pink or blue.
The demand for texture continues but this time it’s done with trompe l’oeil treatments, such as appliques or embroideries over a dimpled or waffled surface.
Color in any spectrum, from dusty pastels and neutrals to neon brights and rich earth tones.
Kathy Nedorostek, president and chief operating officer of Natori Co., said the firm will introduce a new label called Cruz, as well as a private label division at Kefco Co., a company located at 180 Madison Avenue in Manhattan that Kenneth and Josie Natori, owners of the Natori firm, have invested in and helped to reorganize.
“A lot of stores have asked us to develop private label collections for them that will be geared toward broader distribution and will address fashion and lifestyle trends,” Nedorostek said. “These collections will be modern and will give us a wide-open opportunity to give stores great prices, as well as fashion and color.”
The collections — under the Cruz label or private label — will focus on moderate-price sleepwear and at-homewear in fabrics including flannels, knits and satins. Nedorostek added that exclusive styles will be done for retailers, as well. Suggested retail will be $24 to $38.
“Because of the promotional nature of the business that we all saw this holiday season, stores will be coming in with margin issues,” noted Greg Holland, vice president of sales at Charles Komar & Sons. “It will be a very different market in that respect. At the same time, it’s now one of the largest markets of the year, and we’ll be showing a tremendous amount of fall product.”
Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said: “Our big message is taking luxury fabrics like panne, velours and brushed-back satins and treating them casually.
“Everything has a lot of attention to detail, pretty-looking lingerie with laces, ribbons and bows,” Hochman continued. “The colors are soft pinks, blues and lavenders.”
Jeff Bob, president of the Cinema Etoile division of Movie Star, said, “January is becoming a very big market. It’s very important because a lot of the warmwear booking that used to be done later in the year is done now. We’ll be showing an awful lot of color and texture and a lot more contemporary looks.
“Retailers will be coming in looking for newness, but not just an update on what they saw before. It has to be updated and different, like printed leopard velours, microfiber sleepwear, dyed jacquards and floral prints on a geometric or houndstooth ground.”
“Sex still sells. It certainly did during the holidays,” added Bob, noting that the firm’s number one seller in December at stores was the bustier from Cinema Etoile’s “seductivewear” line.
Stan Herman, designer of robes that bear his name at Crowntuft, a unit of Kellwood Co., said: “Chenille sold very well this holiday season, so I don’t think too many stores are going to beat us up when they come in. I’m playing with new lengths like 44-inch robes and a 36-inch robe that can be worn like a little car coat.”
While chenille accounts for 60 percent of Herman’s collection, he said the focus for fall 2001 will be on “a lot more texture,” including waffled, puckered, vertical stripes and wide-stripe effects.
Herman added that he expects a group called Jungle Fever, which features baby-cheetah spots, tiger motifs and tiger lily prints on a black ground of microfleece, will be the top-booking group. He also will feature a Courreges-inspired group in pastels and off-white.
Colleen Cotter, designer of the licensed Liz Claiborne sleepwear at Charles Komar & Sons, said key colors will be blues and aqua. Prints will include “linear leaves, trailing airy florals and feminine yarn-dyed checks.” Embellishments will include stretch laces, velvet trims, pearl embroidery and shiny scallop treatments.
Sylvia Harven, vice president of merchandising for the licensed Lovable daywear and sleepwear at Lady Ester, said: “We’ve kind of jeweled up our sleepwear. We are going back to the richness of shine and fabrics like satins, and taking a direction from Europe of plastering your logo all over the place.”
Harven noted that key ideas include delicate-looking filigree floral prints in a range of colors, leopard prints in watercolor shades and gold braid trim.
Robert Rosenthal, vice president of sales at Mary Green, a San Francisco-based silk resource, said: “Because our thermal-silk business was great for the holidays, I think we’ll be able to layer on new customers.”
Rosenthal said the fall-holiday 2001 collection will feature a range of new colors and feminine-looking prints on interlock pointelle, jacquards, knits and silk and cotton blends.
He further noted that plus sizes will be featured in the Mary Green line for the first time. Judy Vella, president of Soul Sister, a contemporary daywear and sleepwear firm, said a key group will be embroidered combed cotton camis, T-shirts, thongs and a Seventies-inspired hipster brief.
“We are selling the [pajama] pants separately and as sets,” Vella said. “That way, we’re giving retailers the option of merchandising with T-shirts. It’s an option that’s become very popular with boutiques, which are merchandising the items with jeans or as casualwear.”
Karen Neuberger, president and designer of the sleepwear label that bears her name, said: “I think we’ve done a very good job analyzing our past business, starting with crossover looks a woman loves to buy for herself and gift-giving items. It’s been an excellent formula.”
Regarding the mood of retailers, Neuberger observed: “I think they’ll be coming in with a very big hole to fill, and will be looking wherever they can for help. I think we’ve been a consistent line for them and they’ll be willing to plan business with us.
“Unfortunately, retailers had a terrible Christmas, and in the long run I don’t think there will be enough money to cover the [retail] downside,” added Neuberger.

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