IN SEARCH OF FASHION ITEMS
VENDORS ARE BANKING ON KEY CONCEPTS AND LOTS OF COLOR IN SOLIDS AND PRINTS TO REV UP BUSINESS.
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — The soft retail climate hasn’t deflated the enthusiasm of vendors as they go on the offensive with a barrage of new fashion products for spring 2002.
While apparel sales have generally been lackluster at stores, intimate apparel — notably key items that address various lifestyles and double-duty looks that can be worn outside of the boudoir — have been fueling the excitement this spring and summer, said vendors.
One classification that manufacturers and retailers are targeting is young contemporary in all categories, whether it’s edgy looking camis, tanks with bikinis and thongs, long and short novelty pajamas, full slips that look like disco dresses or a new breed of seamless shapers that look hip and fashion-forward.
Ideas that are expected to be on the list of must-haves at this week’s market include:
Nonstop color in solids and prints, from demure pale tones like petal pink and blue ice to bright tangerine, turquoise and hot pink.
Prints are gaining in importance, especially ready-to-wear-looking motifs such as oversized jungle flora, lush-looking foliage and petite romantic florals.
Thongs with logos and amusing embroideries, and screen prints that are meant to be seen riding high underneath the back of pants.
A continuing infatuation with sleek, foam-filled, molded-cup bras.
A variety of seamless undergarments that feature knit-in textured patterns such as allover tulips.
An abundance of printed and textured sheers.
Jeff Bobb, president of the Cinema Etoile division of Movie Star Inc., said: “We are optimistic, but it’s tough. [Innerwear] retailers aren’t crying the blues, because the business is there. Orders have been slower to arrive — but they’re here. Fashion-forward statements have been driving the business overall, and we look forward to a very good market.”
Bob noted that new fabrics such as printed stretch laces and chiffons, and printed charmeuse, have been “very strong,” as well as two-piece items that are either embellished or softly tailored.
“Sexy looks and bustiers are still selling like crazy and a lot of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ influence is creeping into the business,” said Bobb.
Victor Lee, chief operating officer of NAP Inc., said, “So far, all of our appointments are OK. Everyone is coming to market, and we’ll even be seeing a few new major stores we haven’t seen before.”
Regarding the mood of retailers, Lee said: “It appears to be fine, not as glum as I thought it might be. I think that one-third of our customers are struggling a bit, and two-thirds are holding their own. The specialty boutiques in particular seem to be doing alright.”
Lee said the licensed Crabtree & Evelyn sleepwear collection will focus on a “higher grade of fabrics,” such as high thread count cotton voiles. The Anne Lewin line will feature a range of key items in a new knitted terry and a lightweight “baby” terry.
Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Natori Co., said, “We are very bullish about spring 2002 and beyond, even though there’s been a very soft economy. If a product is right, there is business to be had. But it has to be fashion-right and at the right price.”
Cantone noted that the firm’s three labels — Natori Black Label, Natori White Label and Josie — are each “capturing a bigger market share and taking the space of other vendors that have not performed well this year.”
The Natori company will present three themes for spring 2002 sleepwear and daywear: Romantic, a group of soft florals in shades of pale yellow, lilac and petal pink, and allover ombre treatments with dainty embellished trims; Tropical, which focuses on Gauguin-inspired jungle florals, animal prints, tie-dyed looks and a color palette ranging from pale green to a midtone palm green, and a modernistic group called Graphic in black-and-white geometrics on woven and knit cottons. The cottons include gauze, poplin and cotton lawn, as well as printed and textured knits.
“We expect at least 50 percent of our spring business in Natori White Label and Josie to be generated by cotton,” said Cantone.
She further noted that silk has become a “very important growth area” in the Josie and Natori Black Label collections.
“At the end of the day, key items like T-shirts that are tie-dyed, embroidered or screen printed give you the total business,” said Cantone.
Maryann Kraker, senior vice president for the Cruz sleepwear and at-homewear line at Natori, said, “Our strongest message for Cruz is femininity, which is expressed in our florals and colors. Even our cotton knits show this with prints in tiny florals, and butterflies and dragonflies.”
In addition to Asian-inspired florals, a strong tropical statement has received good reaction in a burst of colors like mango, lime, watermelon, kiwi and turquoise, said Kraker.
Alan Fisher, vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America, said: “We’re not like the other vendors — it’s an off market for us because we did the bulk of our spring product in May. We will, however, be introducing a new strapless, seamless bra to the Awareness collection and plan to review the last market’s products and presentation.”
Fisher noted that Wacoal will also preview ideas and concepts for fall 2002.
Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs, said, “Retailers cannot afford not to plan ahead. Their job at this market will be to seek better merchandise, and the onus is on them to find the very best.
She described the new Esprit license as a “niche opportunity” in women’s sleepwear and loungewear and girls’ sleepwear at a time when retailers are looking for fresh ideas and product. In addition to department stores, the Esprit innerwear lines will be distributed to Esprit’s freestanding shops, catalogs and e-commerce businesses, she said.
Hochman further noted that she foresees a strong business in the girls’ sector, primarily because of the line’s unique look.
Flora Nikrooz, design director and an owner of Flora Nikrooz Lingerie, said a year-old sleepwear line of young contemporary sleepwear called Flash has been expanded with “a lot more special looks, and innovative trims and fabrics” for spring.
The line, which features Impressionistic watercolor floral prints, uses yarn-dyed treatments like rosebud and lace trims, sheer ruching effects and lettuce hems. Fabrics include a knitted linen, a variety of microfibers including Modal and novelty burnout effects on sheers.
Peter Keyloun, director of sales and merchandising for the robe and loungewear line that bears his name at The Periphery Group, said: “Our newest idea will be a tremendous amount of multihead embroideries, such as an embroidery that appears on one side of a front treatment.
“We’ll also be doing lots of new techno-stretch blend fabrics of Tactel and spandex and cotton and spandex. We also are doing color mixes such as different shades of pinks, a family of blues and combos of corals and orange,” said Keyloun.
Abe Hanan, president of Panties Plus, the licensor of Jou Jou Intimates, commented, “All of the majors are coming to this market. I think that’s because retailers have become far more open-minded to seeing new product to create excitement. Senior management must be telling them to do it.”
Hanan said the number-one selling bra by Jou Jou is a foam molded cup style. The most “commonly booking” cup size is 38C.
“Our primary emphasis for spring 2002 will be on selling color,” continued Hanan. Colors like lilac, mint and coral are very important for spring. We’ve incorporated prints with basic solids so that everything in the line can be merchandised and coordinated together.”
Justine Morris, East Coast manager for J.D. Fine & Co., said, “We’ve received great reaction to our celestial stars and moon print on panne pajamas. It’s in-store now, hasn’t been promoted and is generally posting 10 percent sell-throughs at retail. In hot July, this gives us an early read on back-to-school business.”
Morris added that the company’s newest junior line of sleepwear — Tart — is receiving positive reaction at pre-market previews. The firm also produces two other junior lines: J.D. Fine and T, Heart.