Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — With fashion as the fertilizer, lingerie business at major stores and specialty boutiques across the country is blooming this spring.
In a spot check last week, a number of retailers said consumers continue to have a robust appetite for intimate apparel items that are smooth and seamless, sleepwear that is rich-looking but minimally styled and separates that have a sportswear flavor.
Overall, fussiness is out and clean, softly tailored looks are in.
Regardless of category, the common denominator is fashion, whether it’s a burst of color, an unusual print, or a fabrication that gives the product a look of quality.
Top-selling ideas include:
European labels, which are in big demand, especially French names.
Seamless looks in the foundations arena, outpacing traditional lace undergarments.
The tactile quality of microfibers, a favorite among purchasers so far this season. l At-homewear items in casual active-inspired knits and woven cottons, and dressy looks in luxe-looking fabrics like silk and polyester charmeuse.
Lolita-inspired baby dolls with marabou trim.
Barbara Lipton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “Right now, spring business is very strong. We are very pleased with our season-to-date trend, and we are beating plan with increases in the midteens. Our foundations business is particularly strong and is being driven by designer names and European labels.”
Best-selling European foundations brands at Saks are Chantelle, La Perla and Lejaby, said Lipton, noting that an allover seamless group of microfiber bras by Italian maker La Perla called “Skin” has been “exceptional.” She also noted that three French labels with a younger appeal — Aubade, Eres and Princess Tam Tam — are “performing very well.”
“Shapewear is also doing extremely well. We have a new private label program that is being produced by Va Bien. More and more women are not wearing hosiery, but they still want that feeling of control-top pantyhose,” said Lipton.
She further noted that thongs — from lace to microfiber — “are blowing out of the stores. Thongs represent 34 percent of all panty units sold.”
Regarding sleepwear, Lipton said: “Our number-one growth business is Natori. Her new assortments are checking very well at retail, with styles that are younger-looking and more contemporary. The Josie line is also selling very well.”
Generally, Lipton said, “Color is very important and represents a significant part of [overall] business.”
Amy O’Conner, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus, noted, “Color has been very successful this season, whether it’s bras or camis. Seamless continues to drive our [foundations] business.
“In sleepwear, we are doing very well with cotton wovens in caftans and pajamas. It’s become more of a separates story where a woman will wear drawstring pants with one top and wear the pants with a different top the next day.”
“Loungewear,” said O’Conner, “is very important this spring and going forward into fall. It represents the lifestyles of our customers and reflects what’s out there in ready-to-wear, especially all of the color.”
Beverly Rice, senior vice president of corporate merchandising at Jacobson’s, said, “What’s making the cash registers ring at Jacobson’s are cotton robes and gowns by Eileen West and Queen Anne’s Lace by Eileen West. Those labels have performed in an exemplary way.”
Rice further noted that at-homewear items by Karen Neuberger “are taking off like gangbusters.” She described three other brands as “top-notch sellers this spring”: robes by Diamond Tea, a Canadian resource; daywear and sleepwear by Swiss label Hanro, and sleepwear by Oscar de la Renta, which is produced under license by Carole Hochman Designs.
“Talk about color — Lilly Pulitzer loungewear and robes are absolutely outstanding this spring,” continued Rice. “A whole new generation at Jacobson’s is discovering Lilly.”
Generally, Rice noted that the same brands, items and colors were selling equally well at Jacobson stores in Florida and the Midwest. “It’s unusual for the same trends to be marching to the same drum beat North and South,” she said.
Noted Lisa Davis, director and divisional merchandise manager at Frederick’s of Hollywood, “H20 Original Water Bras continue to be a Frederick’s phenomenon. Our kissing cleavage bra family of Hollywood Kiss bras is expanding. We just introduced the Hollywood Smooth Satin Kiss bra with great success. As we are the destination for full-figure bras, our Kiss collection is offered in up to a 38D cup.”
Davis further noted that marabou baby dolls and coordinating marabou slippers, as well as “sexy animal prints,” have been strong classifications.
“We sell a lot of sleepwear in silk, cotton or linen, but one exception has been polyester sets by Cosabella, little chemises aimed at younger customers,” said Barbara Cook, owner of Joovay, a lingerie boutique here in SoHo.
“Silk, bias-cut chemises by Frances Smily with hand-dyed lace embellishment are also selling well,” said Cook. Key colors are “oddball, Tibetan-inspired shades like tomato red and bright orange or burnished gold and smoky blue.”
Other top-selling sleepwear vendors include Christine, a Canadian silk specialist, and d. Luxe, whose Asian-inspired printed pajamas of 100 percent woven cotton look like they’ve been pre-washed.
“We still sell a lot of long silk nightgowns, but the big trend right now is keeping a lid on the fussiness. A best-selling gown by Christine didn’t have any lace trim, and it blew out of the store,” said Cook.
Polly Berg, owner of the intimate apparel boutique that bears her name in Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, singled out Fernando Sanchez robes and at-homewear as “incredible this spring.”
“Women love his color combinations and the practicality of his designs,” said Berg. Best-selling colors are a bright yellow and pink combo, and midtone pastels of aqua and lavender.
Berg said another key resource is Oscar de la Renta sleepwear. Top items include a long gown of pima cotton with an embroidered Schiffli trim that looks like lace, softly tailored pajamas of woven cotton and peignoirs of polyester charmeuse edged in picot trim. Blush has been the top color.
“Business is a little better than it was last year, with increases of 7 to 8 percent. Last year was a banner year,” said Berg.
Beverly Flenn, buyer for Hope Chest, a lingerie shop in Philadelphia, said, “We’ve been selling a lot of color in all of our brands, like pumpkin, yellow, turquoise and lavender.” Cosabella, a Miami resource, is a best-selling vendor, she said.
Two top-selling ideas include a microfiber bustier, bra and coordinating panties by Italian label Marvel by La Perla in hot pink, and two allover lace bras by Lise Charmel, a French brand — one in powder blue and one in a peach and ivory combo, said Flenn.
Mickey Lehman, owner of Intimate Apparel, a swimwear and lingerie shop in Lubbock, Tex., said, “I’ve carried a new Canadian bra called Bragel for only two months, and it’s been phenomenal. I do a very big prostheses business, and this bra is the closest thing to a natural breast.”
Lehman singled out a seamless bra style by Chantelle as her number-one selling bra: “Because smooth, molded cups are such a trend right now, it gives a super look under T-shirts and gives a woman super enhancement.”
“Sleepwear has been a little slow, except for Fernando Sanchez. It used to always be the same color range, but he’s improved and broadened his color palette,” said Lehman. The most popular color combo is navy, white and shocking pink.
Said Christine Legatski, owner of Allure, a ready-to-wear and lingerie shop in Santa Fe, N.M., “Foundations business has been good for me, but it has to be padded, nude and have no seams. Customers are also looking for a fuller cup in bras that will give more coverage than a demi cup.” Best-selling brands are Lou and Gemma, two French labels at the Bestform unit of VF Corp.
She added that a line of sleepwear called Loungerie that has an innerwear-outerwear appeal has been a big seller.
“They make washed rayon satin pajamas that I absolutely can’t keep in the store. There’s one style called the Mandarin Set that has a cropped jacket and pull-on pants that customers just love, because it looks like it’s been laundered and preshrunk.
“It looks like sportswear. A gal who works for me has a set in black she sleeps in and also wears out with her cowboy boots,” said Legatski.