A BIG RETURN TO ROMANCE

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — The abundance of lavish laces and elaborate embroideries at the Lyon, Mode City trade fair last month could give a boost to a classic classification: lingerie that has a romantic, ultra-feminine look.
In the lace arena, top ideas included a plethora of big and small geometric lace patterns, spaced and allover floral motifs — primarily roses — wavy patterns, printed and trompe l’oeil meshes, French netting, matte and shine combos, delicate tattoo and spiderweb treatments and dimensional cross-dyed laces in colors that are soft and romantic such as dusty blues, pinks, corals and mauves, as well as muted silver and gold casts.
European brands aimed primarily at younger, contemporary consumers showcased an array of sizzling colors like bon-bon pink, Pez orange, azure blue, lemon yellow, lime green and a range of purples from a deep lavender to Welch’s grape.
Even prints — such as jungle florals in bold brights that crossed over from the swimwear field — gave a new, flirtatious spin to daywear pieces and bras and panties. Swimwear frequently highlighted lingerie touches like lace trims, crochet effects and lettuce edging.
American vendors and retailers returned from the show in Lyon, France, saying they felt energized and extremely upbeat about the prospects of resuscitating the lace business, which has generally been flat for the past three years. The specialty intimate apparel businesses has been overshadowed by the number one selling category at retail: seamless.
While foundations, daywear and sleepwear in beautiful laces such as Chantilly, leavers and Venice laces have been a traditional cornerstone of the innerwear business, the infusion of seamless products that have a dual-purpose and contemporary flair have been the big champs.
Spurred by the demand for comfort and function, the main catalysts behind the seamless movement have been the growing generation of lightweight, buttery-soft microfibers, such as DuPont’s Tactel nylon and Lycra spandex and Lycra Soft; BASF’s Ultra Touch and Ultra Micro Touch; and Meryl by Nylar.
Over the past year, major textile concerns — including DuPont, BASF, Bayer, Guilford, H. Warshow & Sons, Sextet Fabrics, Westchester Lace and Klauber Lace — have been working feverishly to combine the aesthetics, comfort and functionality of seamless microfiber with the sex appeal of lace. It’s been considered a priority, mainly because allover seamless microfibers have generally featured either a matte or shiny surface with little or no texture.
Results of research and development, a lot of which was showcased in Lyon, was prodigious: a vast assortment of lace-like patterns on allover seamless; engineered, knit-in lace treatments and trims; burnout and perforated effects; and a range of luscious prints and colors that could satisfy the most ardent fashionista.
Iris LeBron, fashion director for intimate apparel, swimwear and activewear at DuPont, said, “I think lace will come back stronger than before because it hasn’t been there for several seasons. The laces I saw in Lyon looked very fresh. They had a lot of new patterns and they were tweaking it in different yarns and dyes. Overall, the laces looked softer, edgier.”
Berna Goldstein, vice president of merchandising for bras by Bali and Wonderbra at the Bali Co. division of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, said, “I believe there is a movement to more feminine-looking fabrics. There will be a swing toward more decorative fabrics and types of looks, and that’s because there’s been a lot of tailored seamless products that look alike.
“So I think when there is a distinguishing charasteristic like a pretty jacquard or a lace cover like our Enchantress bra by Bali, which is sexy and molded and is selling very well, it gives the consumer a different look, but with the the same seamless look she likes.”
However, Goldstein noted, “I don’t believe we’ll see a return to seams, except for full-figure bras that need seams for support.”
Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for the Lily of France and licensed Natori and Josie foundations at the Bestform Foundations unit of Vanity Fair Intimate Apparel, said, “It’s exciting to see the more feminine fabrics getting more attention. Women love lace and probably have been lace-starved. But, it hasn’t been the easiest to wear under ready-to-wear.
“Women in part had a little resistance to lace — maybe it would itch or not feel so good. But now, that’s all different and we have other options to explore,” said Garfinkle.”
Garfinkle further noted, “We are looking to introduce at least one major lace group in Lily of France for fall 2001, as well as a very strong group in the Natori collection, something with a light Chantilly lace sense to it.”
Manette Scheininger, senior vice president of marketing at Maidenform Worldwide, said, “I think consumers are ready for feminine laces again. We just have to decide if she wants seamless styles or cut-and-sew laces again, because they each provide different looks.”
Scheininger added that Maidenform has received an early reading on the growing acceptance of lace again, saying retail reaction has been strong to two introductions: a soft cut-and-sew lace bra by Liquid Curves by Maidenform, and three new seamless lace full-figure bras by Lilyette.
Alan Fisher, vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America, the U.S. unit of Kyoto-based innerwear giant Wacoal Japan, said, “For fall 2001, we will have two very important, very different and very lacy and feminine bra groups — one in lace and one in a fabric designed to look like lace. The new lacy looks are prettier and much sexier.” Fisher said lace and embroideries are building in importance, and Wacoal currently has two lace looks doing well: an embroidered Tulip bra and a soft Lace Shape bra in a soft-cup and underwire style.
Jodi Cohen, vice president of merchandising at Lunaire, a specialist in “pretty-looking” bras in cup sizes C to DDD, noted, “Three out of six new groups for fall 2001 will include seamless lace styles and cut-and-sew lace styles. One lace style will be available in a 46DDDD cup size.”
A spokeswoman for Chantelle, a French foundations company specializing in “very feminine-looking” bras and panties, said, “The strong growth of our business testifies to the fact that consumers are increasingly comfortable buying more feminine looks for everyday. Lace and embroidery have always been important materials to Chantelle and will continue to be in 2001.”
Howard Radziminky, senior vice president of sales for Movie Star Inc., noted, “We saw a lot of new lace products and beautiful embroideries in Lyon, and we are hooking up with two or three suppliers. In addition to Lyon, we went shopping at stores in Paris, London and Rome, and we saw a lot of ready-to-wear with lace edges and trims. So many of those concepts could easily be lingerie. This all could really be a boost to the lace industry and lace lingerie.”
“It’s the first time that major stores have reordered our feminine, bridal looks, and specialty stores are starting to bite into it as well,” said Marvin Backer, president of Flora Nikrooz Lingerie. “I think it’s because a lot of department stores have merchandise that looks the same, and consumers want something different.”
Added Backer, “It was one of our best fairs to date in Lyon, and we’ve been showing there for 12 years. There was a huge demand for our very feminine lace peignoirs and beautiful embroideries.
There also was good reaction to colors like periwinkle, banana and pink. That shows that it’s not only the bride whose buying bridal looks in traditional white and ivory, it’s the woman who always wants to look feminine.”
Assessing the sudden demand for lace and embroideries, Norma Reinhardt, vice president of product development at Westchester Lace, said: “We started getting calls for traditional lace, true lingerie laces like stretch and rigid Chantilly lace and French net backgrounds in mid-August. The calls were from both the intimate apparel and ready-to-wear industries.
“After the Lyon show, we started to get a lot more calls. It undoubtedly began to look like the lace spiral was happening again. I have a very good feeling going forward,” said Reinhardt.

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