Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Fashion continued to fuel the flame for beautiful sleepwear at last week’s transitional and holiday market.
Following what retailers and vendors generally described as exceptionally strong Mother’s Day business, the outlook was optimistic for third and fourth-quarter selling.
The message was loud and clear: Retailers said they wanted more pretty, feminine merchandise that had the look of true lingerie and sleepwear — not another T-shirt or tailored romper for the boudoir.
The demand for romantic-looking fare in a way is a backlash to the growing status-brand dilemma at department stores, where acres of real estate have been carved out for a number of big megabrands, including Calvin Klein Underwear at The Warnaco Group and the licensed Tommy Hilfiger sleepwear by Cypress Apparel.
Over the past several years, retailers generally believed prestige brands would put them on the gravy train. For a while, they did. But now, a number of status names, ensconced in elaborate in-store shops and part of all-encompassing designer franchises, are producing bread-and-water results, according to a number of retailers.
Needless to say, smaller, independent resources and traditional manufacturers of innerwear are euphoric, since they had been squeezed out by the big names for the past several years. But vendors generally said this market appeared to be a turning point, an opportunity many seized to feed the demand for new products and ideas. Commenting on the situation of status brands, Robert Pawlak, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel, coats and furs at Carson Pirie Scott, said, “Retailers are very concerned. They know they just didn’t stub their toes — they stumbled big time. They’re making changes.”
Another department store executive, who did not want to be identified, said, “I do $1 million a year with Calvin Klein Underwear. I’ll continue to carry Calvin because it continues to be very lucrative. But Penney’s is so big, there will come a time when there won’t be enough production left for my stores.”
As reported, Warnaco began selling the premium Calvin Klein underwear label to Penney’s in January.
Paige Hibbard, sleepwear buyer at Parisian, assessed Mother’s Day business this way: “We had a very successful Mother’s Day business with high sell-throughs in regular-priced merchandise and key classifications such as sleeveless pajamas and long and short gown-and-robe sets.”
Hibbard singled out Eileen West sleepwear, which is produced under license by Charles Komar & Sons, as a top-performing resource.
Sizing up the mood at retail, Charles Nesbit, president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, observed, “The department stores are certainly looking for a way to give a shot to their [status] business. Victoria’s Secret [comp sales] are up 26 percent, and that is clearly having a impact on retailers.”
Regarding top-selling ideas, Nesbit said allover seamless daywear and underwear by Barely There “continues to be awesome.”
“We continue to add capacity in seamless production and we see it as a huge growth segment in all of our lines of business,” he added.
Kathy Nedorostek, president and chief operating officer of Natori Co., said, “Right now, our performance at stores is very strong, with weekly sell-throughs of 17 and 18 percent. It goes to show you that if you stay true to what you believe in and capture a contemporary niche the way we have, it’s no wonder we are outperforming the status brands.”
Nedorostek said ideas that continue to drive bookings were “a continuation of color, very strong abstract and floral prints, and cotton knits” in the Natori and Josie collections.
Jeanette Cantone, executive vice president of merchandising at Natori, said, “Gift-giving items for Valentine’s Day were very strong for us, like fashion-forward jerseys with stretch lace trim.” A top-booking color combination is bright red and hot pink.
“We made it very easy for retailers,” she added. “Everything was well-balanced in terms of items and classifications that can be merchandised together very easily.”
Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs, said, “We had very good Mother’s Day business at stores, and retailers came in very happy because of that. We gave them what they wanted — very salable, classic Carole Hochman sleepwear.”
“But,” said Hochman, “I think there’s a problem at retail right now. I think this whole status brand thing has created an imbalance in the intimate apparel business, because everybody thought consumers wanted sleepwear that looks like sportswear. Those [megabrand] people don’t know how to make sleepwear.
“Retailers are beginning to shrink their status businesses, because the amount of real estate dedicated to status products is not giving customers what they want,” she said.
Designer Eileen West said reaction was strong to allover sheer floral-pattern jackets, wavy-pattern cotton pointelle sleepgowns trimmed with lace, crinkled blue gingham robes with white terry collar and cuffs, and printed long velour robes.
“Stores loved these looks because they are fresh, new ideas,” said West.
“I love all of the rich reds and fuchsia tones. They are very Indian-inspired colors,” said Fernando Sanchez at a presentation at his studio. “I think many of my clothes for transition and resort are meant to be worn where there’s lots of sunshine, like Acapulco or Morocco.”
Sanchez is known for his intense color palette and luxurious fabrics.
This time, though, he offered a kaleidoscope of rich hues — combinations of copper and coral with robin’s-egg blue, shocking pink and tangerine, marigold with lime green or bon-bon pink, and blueberry and black.
“It’s quite wonderful. There hasn’t been any price resistance,” said Sanchez, noting that “glitter items,” such as an allover sequined jumpsuit, were top-booking products. The jumpsuit wholesales for $548.