TURNING POINT FOR SPRING

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — Manufacturers are anticipating a volatile market for next spring. Considered to be one of the most important buying periods of the year, next week is expected to be explosive in mood, when buyers and senior management show up in full force to search for key items, new marketing ideas and a burgeoning number of new brands that will lend interest to innerwear departments.
A main reason for the large turnout — underscored by the presence of The May Department Stores Co., a retail powerhouse that hasn’t made the New York buying swing for several years — is the recent falloff of status brand business at department stores.
As previously reported, a softening business in the megabrand arena is slowing the momentum of overall intimate apparel business, which is among the highest margin categories at retail with sales of more than $12 billion in the first half of 2000.
Despite prodigious gain in intimate apparel over the past decade — sparked by purveyors of fashion like Victoria’s Secret, the growth of big names in the category and an abundance of new product in Lycra spandex and microfibers — retailers, reportedly, are looking to cut back or cut loose prestige labels that have underperformed over the past couple of years.
For a majority of smaller, entrepreneurial vendors, many of whom have been cut out of the action at major stores for several years, spring market week now presents an opportunity they had lost sight of at one time. Since 1995, a slew of megabrands merchandised as collection concepts in sprawling in-store shops have been dominating real estate in innerwear departments. The result has been devastating to independent companies that were once the backbone of department store business.
Kathy Nedorostek, president and chief operating officer of Natori Co. and a former retail executive, said a lot of money was invested in supporting status brands, which she feels hasn’t necessarily helped overall intimate apparel business. Now, she feels retailers are reevaluating how they are going to merchandise their departments and whether there should be more diversity to their assortments.
Regarding the upcoming market, Nedorostek said, “We are coming off of a very strong spring with all of our retail accounts and we obviously have aggressive plans with stores, as well as a continuation of well-balanced collections in Natori and Josie.
“Sell-throughs for early fall have been extremely strong and reaction continues to be strong to sheers, animal prints, peasant-inspired prints and classic looks.”
Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising at Natori, said a palette of “great colors in the coral family that are not orange, but more in the pink range” will be important. Key colors are guava and blues accented with green.
Cantone added that the demand for the allover seamless bra, Body Double by Natori, has been “very strong.” The bra is produced under license at Bestform.
“There still is lots of white, and we will have some very strong prints like florals on an ombre background that gives a modern twist, and abstract animal motifs,” said Cantone.
Carole Hochman, president and design director of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said, “I think it’s going to be an important time. The market needs new energy. Retailers are asking for merchandise that consumers have been asking for. Where are all of the bridal looks and sexy lingerie? I think there has to be a rebalancing of real estate.”
With this idea in mind, Hochman said her company is reintroducing two brands that have been out of circulation for several years: Sara Beth, a collection of pretty, updated sleepwear and daywear items that feature “beautiful” appliques and embroideries, and Carole’s Kids, a line of children’s sleepwear.
“I’m so excited about the Sara Beth collection, because it represents a return to feminine, romantic looks. I wanted to keep it romantic looking in pastels — not dark colors,” said Hochman. “The children’s line will be 100 percent flame retardant in a polyester knit that looks like cotton.”
She further noted that the Hochman firm has entered into a joint agreement with Jammies, a British company, to codesign an upscale line of sleepwear knits under the Jammies label for major specialty stores and boutiques in the U.S.
“It will be sophisticated and clean looking, and will fit a niche with my company because it will have narrower distribution and higher price points,” said Hochman, although wholesale prices haven’t been finalized.
John Brody, senior vice president of the Jockey brand and national sales manager at Jockey International, said retailers will be “looking for the big ideas that will drive business and create increases. I think it will be a good, exciting market. We have appointments with all of the major stores.”
Assessing the retail scene, Brody said, “It’s really going to be about how can the number of stockkeeping units be made to be more impactful. We hope [retailers] want to get away from price promoting, to get out of this downward spiral. From that standpoint, we are walking into this with a very focused point of view.”
Among the “big ideas” Jockey will feature for spring will an extension of three of its strongest classifications in undergarments: seamless bras and coordinating panties, an expanded range of constructed bras and additional fashion looks in a line called Cotton Corps.
One new seamless bottom of microfiber Tactel and Lycra spandex called No Panty Line will feature a linticular hangtag with two-dimensional visuals that show how the product looks on a woman’s figure and underneath apparel.
Carola Di Iorio, managing director of Lingerie de France, a unit of VF Corp.’s Bestform Group, said, “This is going to be an extremely big market, bigger than usual for us with major stores and smaller specialty operations.
“We’ve been in the U.S. for 10 years. There’s so much activity that I even had a call from a major retailer who has never called before. They wanted to know about one of our new top items, the Air Up Bra by Bolero.”
“Spring is all about shine for Lovable,” said Sylvia Harven, vice president of merchandising for the licensed Lovable collection of sleepwear and related daywear at Lady Ester. She said top ideas for spring include shimmer reptile prints, monotone heart-pattern satins, and “rich” colors such as purple and fuchsia.
Michael Roslin, vice president of the Lovable panty division, noted, “Animal prints and floral prints continue to be very strong. There’s definitely an ethnic business in Lovable, a customer who loves color and shine of the garments. It’s a big success at Wal-Mart, Kmart and Bradlees.”
Lovable, a name that is expected to become a core brand at Sara Lee, was relaunched in the U.S. this year.
Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales at Movie Star Corp., said two new brands will be introduced for spring: Private Property by Cinema Etoile and Soft Whispers by Cinema Etoile. Distribution for both lines is aimed at department stores.
Nili Shir, senior vice president of merchandising at Movie Star, said, “We describe the Private Property collection as young misses’ contemporary. It’s a knit line based on surface interest fabrics in cotton blends.”
The line is designed by Helen Sanchez. Styles including long and short pajama sets and sleep gowns, including cotton pointelles, yarn-dyed stripes and rib patterns. Colors will include gray, cornflower, fawn and green.
Radziminsky said the Soft Whispers line, which will be produced in the Philippines, will be aimed at the better bridal and special occasion market, noting, “Cinema Etoile does a very big sleepwear bridal and special occasion business at moderate price points. These will be intricate looks at better price points.”
Treatments include trims of Venice lace, sequins and elaborate embroideries. Colors will include white, blush, powder blue and black.
Radziminsky said, “There’s an opportunity for knits, which was somewhat of a stagnating business. There’s demand for new product and youth-oriented looks.”
Della Osher, vice president of marketing for Rampage intimate apparel at Vandale Industries, said the crossover customer at department stores in the 18-to-30 age range has responded to “edgier looks.”
Best-selling ideas for spring will be tops and bottoms of stretch and brushed micropolyester that have a suede-like hand in a dusty shade of peach. A holograph minidot print of Lycra and nylon in pink and white has also received strong reaction, she said.
“The fashion part of the business is growing,” Osher said. “We add life to the selling floor, and we fill a niche.”

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