NEW YORK — Foundations in cosmetic skin tones — from light to dark — are becoming a hot trend.

They are giving foundations makers and retailers another reason to feel confident about the fall season, which is already expected to ride high with cleavage-enhancing bras and seamless looks.

The concept of nude-tone foundations is nothing new. It goes back to the early Seventies, when Warner’s introduced its packaged semisheer line called Starkers, and Lily of France came out with its John Kloss label of semisheer bras. Now, the idea is catching on again in a broader way, in a greater variety of tones.

Vendors say the call for various skin tones is gaining for two reasons: It broadens market share by targeting a growing ethnic consumer base and it gives a fashion twist to basic merchandise.

Because many of the nude-tone groups are sleek and tailored in blends of nylon and Lycra spandex, they reinforce another major trend: seamless or seamless-looking foundations.

For fall, several foundations companies have introduced entire collections of bras and panties in cosmetic shades, or have expanded color palettes to include skin tones.

Vendors say the top-booking color is brown, ranging from a light taupe or toffee to black coffee

From a retail point of view, Janice Page, group vice president of intimate apparel, accessories and other areas at Sears Roebuck & Co., Chicago, said: “This is a trend that is new and fresh. It seems to be growing and gaining in importance, and it’s doing well for us. We find it’s translating very well into ethnic markets, especially in deeper tones.”

Page also cited the predominance of neutral colors in ready-to-wear this spring and summer as a main influence. The skin-tone foundations don’t show through lighter-weight fabrics in neutral hues.

Jaime Villavlanca, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of intimate apparel and other areas at I. Magnin, San Francisco, said, “Nude tones have become more important for us this past year. We are beginning to see a gradual increase.”

Villavlanca said nude-tone foundations account for 24 percent of total foundations business at Magnin stores. Ivory, he said, has also posted a gradual sales gain and now accounts for 20 percent of overall foundations sales.

Key vendors of nude-tone foundations at Magnin are Natori, Wacoal, La Perla and Chantelle, he said.

Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group, commented, “It’s a really big idea for us. Our orders are three times over our expectations for Not So Innocent Nudes. We think it will be hugely successful.”

The Nudes group of molded, seamless bras and coordinating panties, which was introduced in March and is Warner’s first new packaged foundations in more than 20 years, comes in five nude-tone colors: shell pink, toffee, body cocoa, body beige and black coffee.

Wachner said the Nudes group was introduced primarily as a fashion statement, and not specifically with the ethnic market in mind.

“I would wear one of the brown shades of Nudes under a sheer brown linen blouse,” said Wachner.

Joan Persic, vice president of marketing for the Vanity Fair and licensed Eileen West brands at Vanity Fair Mills, noted: “The biggest surprise in our Body Sleeks line is the color called bronztique [a dark shade of taupe with a sheen]. It’s selling to everybody, and is our number one booking color.’

Body Sleeks, a Vanity Fair line of opaque molded, seamless bras and matching control panties, was introduced in March for early fall selling, reaching the stores last month.

“Women are buying the darker shades, whether they have a tan or not,” said Persic.

A medium-tone taupe is another strong seller, she said. Body Sleeks features six other nude-tone shades: star white, glacier white, candle glow, pearl blush, tender tan and shell.

Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for Bestform Foundations, noted a line of nude-tone panties and coordinating unconstructed daywear bras in the licensed Natori line will be introduced in August.

“The idea was inspired by ready-to-wear,” said Garfinkle. “Women need a no-show look under their apparel. Right now, it’s a fashion statement that people feel isn’t frivolous.”

Colors in the Natori line will include skin (a deep caramel), blush pearl and cocoa. It will also be offered in black.

Garfinkle noted that bookings for Glossies by Lily of France, a line of semisheer molded, seamless bras and coordinating panties, have been running “four times ahead of last year.”

“We gave Glossies a national ad campaign this spring, because we knew we were onto something big,” said Garfinkle, noting that the top booking nude-tone colors are mocha, espresso, champagne and skin.

Kris Williams, national sales manager for Vogue Dessous here, a Toronto-based vendor of foundations, said, “There’s been so much interest in body tones and earth tones lately.

European lines have always been heavily slanted to white, but it’s changing now. We realize the importance of skin tones for the U.S. market.”

Williams noted that reaction to a color called rosewood, introduced in March, has been “excellent.” As a result of retail demand for body tones, she said a shade called coffee glaze will be previewed in August for spring 1995 deliveries.

“Our strongest color this year is brown, and we have received very good results with two colors introduced in May, taupe and chocolate,” said Rikke Petersen, national sales manager for La Perla foundations in North America.

Petersen added that a top-booking bra for late fall selling has been a silk-print number in ivory, brown, green and mauve that “blends in well with skin tones.”

NCC Industries, maker of Lilyette bras, is taking a cautious approach.

“We’re still being careful about color, but we did add a new cross-dyed stretch lace bra that has the look of a skin-tone [light beige] color in our full-busted line for fall,” said Ed Zerbe, vice president of marketing for Lilyette.

Zerbe noted that the firm also has added the color cocoa to its palette for full-busted bras and coordinating panties in cotton and Lycra jacquard.

“We’ve done it because consumers have been asking for it,” said Zerbe.

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