Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Although May traditionally is not a huge innerwear market, it’s an important time for retailers to reassess fall buys, preview transitional merchandise and get a peek at spring 2001.
A top priority for merchants and manufacturers will be to secure key items and classifications. It also is a pivotal period, when the trade hunkers down to discuss marketing strategies and budgets for national advertising campaigns and co-op programs, especially among the big buying groups and the handful of large foundations firms such as Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, The Warnaco Group, Wacoal America, Maidenform and the Vanity Fair Intimates and Bestform units of VF Corp.
Foundations companies generally showed the bulk of their branded fall lines in March. A few, though, will be adding more dimension to existing styles with fashion colors and, in some cases, prints.
In the sleepwear, robe and at-homewear arena, smaller to midsize companies will add line extensions that will freshen department floors for an easy transition into holiday and early spring. Makers also will showcase special programs for Valentine’s Day gift giving.
Among the classifications expected to be strong are:
Ready-to-wear colors, including red, purple, hot pink and a range of blues.
Prints in daywear and sleepwear, especially Sixties and Seventies-inspired florals and paisleys. Dots also are a big idea.
A continuation of animal prints such as leopard, zebra and python.
Such fabric mixes as woven cotton and cotton knit.
Unexpected trims like sheer georgette and iridescent sheer ruching.
Textured treatments, like rib patterns, pucker effects or trompe l’oeil printed sheers.
Anything short, particularly chemises and baby dolls.
Commenting on the importance of color and prints, Tristine Berry, merchandise manager of intimate apparel and swimwear at BASF, said, “Retailers and manufacturers are working triple-time to get prints out in intimate apparel. I think it’s good there’s so much color right now at stores, because that means it definitely will continue. A lot of it is very Peter Max-inspired in bright, fun colors.”
Berry, who recently returned from a shopping tour of Europe, pulled out key items she had purchased in England, France and Italy to underscore her statement — a semisheer purple nylon bikini from Miss Selfridge; a black micro halter with a multicolored printed paisley motif that looked like embroidery from Jane Norman, a British specialty chain, and a triangle-shaped bra and bikini of floral-printed cotton lawn and microfiber in robin’s-egg blue by Delfina, an Italian brand.
“In March and early April, there were no prints in intimate apparel at American stores, except, perhaps, animal. But stores like Express and Victoria’s Secret are suddenly doing a lot of prints in intimate apparel,” said Berry, showing two bra-and-panties sets she purchased at Express last week: a sheer burgundy tie-dyed set of nylon and Lycra spandex and a robin’s-egg blue and burgundy paisley set of cotton and Lycra.
Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for the Lily of France and licensed Natori and Josie foundations at Bestform Group, said, “At the present time, we are not doing anything new, other than additional colors. But we have already begun to preview spring 2001, and reaction has been very strong.”
Garfinkle said top ideas for spring include an expansion of the “X Bra classification and new items in Strappies,” a line of bras by Lily of France that feature interchangeable straps in a host of colors and prints.
“Color is going to be a very big deal, especially for the Josie and Lily of France target customers, who are young and want updated looks. They respond to the emotional impact of color,” said Garfinkle.
Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said, “We are doing a mixed-media line in Carole Hochman sleepwear, because cotton knits have become an oversaturated category. Knits are an easy private label venue now. So, we are mixing wovens and knits and satins and knits.
“Women are wearing cotton wovens again, like blouses and dresses. It’s becoming popular again in sleepwear as well,” she said.
As for the licensed Oscar de la Renta sleepwear collections — the navy label is the designer line and the pink label is the secondary line — Hochman said “pretty pinks that are very feminine looking” were key for Valentine’s Day gift-giving.
Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising at Natori Co., noted, “May will be a small market for us, but it will be important because we will be previewing spring 2001. May market sets the tone for the entire year.
“We’ll be doing lots of color, prints, texture, ruffles and embroideries, but in a feminine, modern way. Each season, we tweak it a little more and modernize the look of Natori and Josie sleepwear and daywear,” said Cantone.
“We refer to this as a Valentine’s Day market,” said Jeff Bob, president of the Cinema Etoile division of Movie Star Inc. “That’s because we do most of our holiday business in March.
“Prints have been exploding for us, especially reptile and animal prints, and we’ll be introducing four new prints this month in hot pink and blue. We’ll also be doing lots of little dots,” said Bob.
He added that baby dolls were “still very hot. We continue to sell marabou looks like crazy.”
Lisa Leigh, director of sales and merchandising at August Silk Intimates, said, “I think this will be a very busy market for us, because we will be finishing fall orders and starting holiday with dressy, gift-giving product in velvets and silk charmeuse. We also will be doing lots of trims in gold lace and stretch laces.”
Leigh said red would be “very important,” and “floral prints will be bigger and bolder. It will really be a dramatic print time for us.”
She added that a new fabric blend would be introduced in at-homewear: brushed silk and cotton.
Marcia Bayard, designer of the licensed Crabtree & Evelyn sleepwear at NAP Inc., said, “We are making a pink-purple statement at this market. Heathered pink cloud is a key color for transition.” New fabrics include a silk and linen blend that has a burnout treatment. It coordinates with silk charmeuse pieces in robin’s-egg blue, she said.
Sheila Solomon, national sales director of Priamo Designs, said, “All of my stores are coming in, even though it’s going to be a small market. Our silk collection booked very well in March, and retailers said they were coming back for more for holiday.
“We also will be showing a cruise line of cotton lawn and batiste. The cotton sleepwear will generally be shown to our Southern accounts,” said Solomon.
She added that reaction had been strong to a textured cotton knit group in gray and ivory.
“Colors such as lavender, blue and buttercup have been selling extremely well at stores this spring. Retailers said they want more color for holiday,” she said.
Flora Nikrooz, designer of the sleepwear and daywear firm that bears her name, said, “Key ideas for holiday include many floral and animal prints, shimmer fabrics and a new silk ombre look.”
“There’s a freedom of fashion in lingerie right now. We can work with just about any fabric or lace, because anything goes, and it’s all due to the consumer, who is creating her own fashion statement in ready-to-wear,” said Nikrooz.