NAUGHTY AND NICE SHARE A STAGE
Byline: Karyn Monget
PARIS — Intimate apparel merchandise and fabrics served as a backdrop to a Las Vegas-like environment at the Salon International de la Lingerie and the Interfiliere shows.
Retailers and manufacturers were entertained with a blitz of gyrating male and female dancers, tumbling acrobats and aspiring singers — all wearing lingerie, of course.
The fall-winter 2001-2002 lingerie fair held at Paris’s Porte de Versailles, which closed its first four-day edition Jan. 29, was action-packed with scores of mini fashion shows that pushed the envelope. Among the most notable were Chantal Thomass’s naughty peep show featuring saucy vignettes of boudoir voyeurism, a pelvis-grinding presentation by Passionatta that resembled a tribal fertility dance, and a knockout Broadway-inspired dance routine by VF Corp.’s stable of European labels, including Lou, Bolero and Gemma.
Underscoring the atmosphere was an ongoing video of a European TV ad campaign at the booth of French bra maker Chantelle that featured a woman in a park disrobing as she stands over a man, then dressing and slipping away into the night. The sound track of a zipper represents what Chantelle president Patrice Kretz calls “a woman who is in control and is comfortable with herself and knows what she wants.”
Sonja Winther, managing director of Chantelle in the U.S., said, “They’re thinking of editing out the man, because he’s just lying there and looks dead.”
A key motivation for all of the hoopla was what many retailers and suppliers described as a big return to unabashed femininity and sensuality, specifically extravagant laces, ornate embroideries and appliques, pleating, burn-out treatments and a plethora of special-looking trims. The move back to romance, which began surfacing at the Lyon, Mode City show in Lyon, France, in September, and emerged in Paris as a major trend, is beginning to overshadow the impact of seamless undergarments that was so prevalent in 2000.
The Paris edition usually lasts three days, but organizers added a day to allow retailers and suppliers the extra time many had requested to source the cavernous halls of the dual-purpose intimates show. In all, the lingerie fair showcased over 450 brands, 74 percent of which were non-French, as well as 350 exhibitors of fabrics for lingerie, beachwear and men’s underwear at the Interfiliere for spring-summer 2002.
Total attendance from the international marketplace increased 1.9 percent to 20,593 visitors. France posted the largest increase of 9,857 attendees, 3 percent over a year ago, with slight gains from Germany, Spain and Belgium. The tally of U.S. visitors increased 1.2 percent, to 476, while Greece accounted for a 1.7 percent gain of 238 visitors. There were two exceptions, with attendance from Italy dropping 2 percent, to 1,742, and Japan slipping 2.2 percent, to 413 visitors.
At a center entrance of the lingerie show, an area called Expression Dessous was showcased for the first time with 13 international designer brands: A-Day, Ana Quasor, Beau Bra, Fifi Chachnil, Catherine Goux, Grazia’lliani Lingeria, Janet Reger, Nicole Olivier, Sabrina Nadal, Vannina Vesperini, Yael Landman, Only Hearts and White Rose.
Unlike previous editions, though, some monolithic booths that house megabrands and national brands such as Calvin Klein Underwear, Warner’s and Bodyslimmers, as well as Maidenform, lacked the frenetic activity generated at stands for more trendy brands like Princess Tam Tam, Eres, Kenzo, Rien, Barbara, Ravage, Antinea, Marie-Jo, Fashion Forms, Oh Que Luna and Argentovivo.
There was talk at the show about the discontinuance of the Ralph Lauren Intimates license with Sara Lee Corp., with many retailers and manufacturers speculating on the fate at major stores of other licensed megabrands, which as a group seems to have lost some of its luster in innerwear departments.
Looking over the Cosabella booth, Amy O’Connor, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus, said, “I think this show is busier than I’ve ever seen it. It can only mean that intimate apparel and foundations must be a healthy business right now [worldwide]. I’ve not only seen great new basic product at this show but also terrific bridal looks and fashion.”
James McMahon, buyer of designer and private label innerwear at Neiman’s, noted, “Everything has changed from ivory and black to an explosion of color — to plums, teals, fuchsia — all across the board.
“I do private label cashmere for our stores and I’m already seeing it here [branded] in fashion colors. What I thought was great was tie-dyed cotton jerseys, but tie-dyes that had more of a look of a floral print by Grazia’lliani Lingeria. Cotton sherpa is all over the place, like at Von Furstenberg, and so is pleating. Oh Que Luna did a good job with pleating and lace loungewear sets in a bright shade of tangerine orange, not a pumpkin orange.”
McMahon further noted that he liked an at-homewear group by Verde Veronica in a warm taupe trimmed with shaved rabbit fur, but noted “the foundations looked better than the sleepwear.”
Regarding American vendors, McMahon said, “Jonquil looked really good with new fall colors and a lot of new pleating. I loved the soft colors like teal, which I think I’ll go with.”
Barbara Lipton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue, noted, “I really liked the show this year. The ambience was much more conducive to doing business. There was air conditioning and it was a cooler climate to work in, and the music wasn’t as loud and distracting.”
Lipton said she placed orders with three designer sleepwear and at-homewear resources Saks has never featured: Jane Woolrich, an upscale British label, and two French brands — Caroline Cole and Catherine Goux.
“We came here to look for new sleepwear and loungewear resources, not foundations,” said Lipton.
Laurie Black, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Nordstrom, said: “For us, color is driving our business. It’s making our [intimates] business happen right now. We came here to get direction for color, fabrics and laces for fall. It may sound boring, but we’re not here to buy. For sleepwear for us, it’s building our core assortments, like working with Natori here to get a good flow and assortment on the selling floor.”
Regarding trends, Josie Natori, co-chairman of Natori Co., said, “I don’t think seamless is as big of a deal as it was in the past. We spent a great deal of time evaluating the laces. There were a lot of wonderful new ideas at the Interfiliere, like new softer bra-cup pads that stay white and don’t yellow. And there were more versions of a popular ‘paper’ fabric that everybody’s now doing, but this new microfiber generation is called ‘whisper,’ it feels creamy but it gives support from a 32 to a 38D cup.
“I like this show because it’s more productive for us. Our deadline for spring concepts for our [foundations] license with Bestform is March. Everything will be put to bed next month. By the time Premiere Vision comes around in March, it’s too late for us.”
“I also noticed a lot more new Italian names and an emergence of new houses,” she said. “That certainly is an indication that business is healthy.”
Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising at Natori, outlined what she and the Natori design team described as “top colors for spring: corals, yellows, greens and a range of pinks from cotton candy to guava.
“Metallics are so very important, as well as lot of beautiful cross-dyed laces,” said Cantone.
Ellen Rohde, president of department and specialty store brands for VF’s Global Intimate Apparel Coalition, said: “The excitement at the show was sleepwear first, and secondly, a return to femininity. Everything was playful, fun and romantic. It’s good for everybody in the industry.”
“American buyers have been very aggressive with us at this show regarding sales plan,” said Patrice Kretz of Chantelle. “In Europe, the attitude is different. Intimate apparel business at department stores is good, and in France, there’s been a reduction of smaller specialty stores. So department stores have increased their market share. We’ve had a 10 percent sales gain in 2000 and are doing about $200 million in wholesale sales.”
Alain Kowalik, director of marketing at Eres, a unit of Chanel, noted: “This is the best show we’ve ever had and I think it’s because of the exposure of the brand at the new store in Paris on Avenue Montaigne and the new store on Madison Avenue in New York.”
French designer Chantal Thomass said she will do her first trunk show at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York in April. Thomass added that she will also exhibit at the Lyon, Mode City show for the first time.
“It was a very good show for us, mostly because we see retailers from Germany, England and Belgium, and it’s a great place to find a new agent in Italy,” Thomass said. “We’ve had some orders, but the French prefer to see the collection after the show.”
Another French designer, Sabrina Nadal, said, “I like this show because it gives me the opportunity to work with big stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. I began working with Barney’s for the first time, and my usual customers like Agent Provacateur and Miss Selfridge come in.
“One specialty retailer from Munich says she comes to this show because she can find very special items. My price points are very diversified on purpose, and I have price points for everybody starting at retail from 400 to 1,900 French francs [$58 to $275]. That’s what makes my business click.”