Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — The demand for intimate apparel and related daywear items has consistently been building over the past year at specialty chains, according to store executives, and the potential for growth — especially in fashion items — is strong.
In a spot check at Manhattan units of contemporary chains H&M, Express, Benetton and Gap that cater to the fashion-driven consumer, two trends were highly visible in lingerie areas that ranged from approximately 300 square feet to over 1,000 square feet: an abundance of fashion colors, with prints and fabrics that looked like they walked off a ready-to-wear runway.
One trend in particular came out loud and clear: dual-purpose bras, briefs and bikinis that could be worn on the beach or in the boudoir.
Tristine Berry, apparel merchandising manager for swimwear and intimate apparel at BASF, said, “There certainly is reciprocal styling between intimate apparel and swimwear, and it’s a strong influencer for everybody in the market. Everybody wants to do this next season.”
Iris LeBron, fashion director of intimate apparel, swimwear and activewear at DuPont, said: “There are so many swimwear looks in lingerie right now. That’s what makes it so much fun. These [specialty] stores are doing the things that people want to buy right now.”
The taste for exotic colors and prints was also apparent at several Victoria’s Secret stores in midtown Manhattan, the Upper East Side and Upper West Side neighborhoods, where the palette of colors ranged from watermelon and coral blush to iris and Saint-Tropez nude. Key prints included a Sixties-inspired pink paisley motif, a Seventies-looking swirl print in coral and burgundy tones, and updated leopard spots.
Seamless ruled at Victoria’s Secret, where styles by Body by Victoria were the star groups merchandised in window displays and at the front of each store.
Unlike the sea of traditional solid white, black and pale pink, and blue that continues to glut intimate apparel departments at major department stores, specialty retail operations are editing and merchandising the same lingerie styles for two consumer bases: younger, contemporary consumers they’ve already captured and the aging baby boomer who wants to look and feel young.
Key examples of crossover intimates-swimwear ideas in the lingerie department of H&M on West 34th Street included a satin beige and ivory reptile-print contour bra and bikini, and a matte Mondrian-inspired multicolored demibra and bikini of woven cotton. Also merchandised alongside the intimates was a red reptile-print sequin bra and panty set that was tagged “swimwear.”
When asked if these items were lingerie or swimwear, a sales associate replied, “It goes both ways. Customers are buying the items as intimates and swimwear.”
A block down at the Express store, the lingerie area was awash with tropical florals and jungle motifs in bold colors. Printed sheer mesh was a key theme, with coordinating daywear pieces such as sheer skirts, camis and assorted tops.
“Even women who are 40 or older are buying these looks,” said one saleswoman, noting that “customers want the lingerie to be seen under a sheer top or an unbuttoned shirt.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland, Ohio-based Express, said, “We’ve been doing Express Underwear since spring 2000. As we speak, we are changing it to Express Lingerie. Sexy is the underlying note. What sets us apart is we’ve been doing it with what’s happening in sportswear, like low-rise thongs and bikinis.
“A lot has been going on,” she continued. “We plan to grow the business and are looking at categories like sleepwear and robes. Our new Express swimwear collection was designed by our lingerie designers, and we are considering expanding Express Lingerie stores like the prototype store we have at the Manhattan Mall at Herald Square.”
A spokesman for Italian specialist Benetton, said, “Benetton’s Undercolors underwear brand was created over 10 years ago. Initially, it was sold in lingerie stores. For the past six years, it has been on sale in the monobrand Undercolors stores.
“Since last year, Undercolors [underwear] has also been present in corners of major department stores in Europe, and we are expanding in all of Europe, especially Italy. Undercolors is now an international presence, because this brand is in all of our new megastore and new concept stores, including those opening in the U.S.”
Crossover ideas between Undercolors’ Beach Collection and Women’s Underwear Collection include seamless microfiber bras and briefs in bright colors, tubular effects and textures such as ribbing and jacquard weaves, mesh treatments, and a variety of floral prints.
At the Gap unit in Herald Square, a new format merchandises panties on table tops throughout the lingerie area, resembling a department store setup. Gap introduced boxed basic underwear for men and women in the early Nineties, and expanded into Gap Bodywear and related lingerie items two years ago.
In an array of colors, as well as basic black, white and grey, cotton panties at Gap were promoted at “Buy four for $19.95,” and nylon panties were “Buy three for $19.95.” Wall displays showcased signs saying “My Favorite Bra,” which was available in seamless, lace or mesh for $19.99 each.
In a merchandising move similar to that of Gap’s sister unit, Old Navy, novelty drawstring pajama bottoms of woven cotton were being sold as key items for $24.