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NEW YORK — A sense of renewal infiltrated the November innerwear market.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The reason was the abundance of new product and ideas at a time when retailers are increasingly cutting back on the breadth of their merchandise and focusing on key styles, all the while anxiously awaiting the first indications of the holiday selling season.

Retailers said they had a lot on their plates for spring, summer and early fall programs, such as rooting out the brands and items that haven’t been performing, and setting a new course with fashion merchandise, labels and categories that will boost margins and build incremental business.

Typically, merchants and manufacturers talk about newness and fashion, and how the marketplace is in need of different ideas and products that will stimulate consumers to buy, thus thinning out inventory levels. But pulling through with new initiatives often has been blocked by strategies that frequently don’t push the envelope and open-to-buy budgets that are consistently allotted to mainstream brands that stay close to the basics.

Now, there appears to be a concerted effort on the part of retailers and vendors to step up to the plate with the introduction of new brands and product offerings that break out of the mold, as well as the expansion of classifications that can be sold at full price.

Daywear got the ball rolling this year with contemporary pieces from specialists such as Cosabella and Hanky Panky. Key items are camis, boy-cut pants, thongs, low-rise string bikinis and a variety of dual-purpose tops, and at-homewear is trading up to a new glam identity. But there’s still lots of room for trend-specific classifications.

Key ideas include:

  • The infusion of fashion colors, prints and embellishments for full-figure bra brands, such as Lunaire, Panache, Grenier and Lilyette at Maidenform, and the Curvations label by Bestform at VF Corp. It’s a line of business that historically has been basics driven.
  • The romantic, antique lace cami by designers such as Leigh Bantivoglio.
  • Bridal and special-occasion foundations, including specialty bustiers and corsets by Body Nancy Ganz at Warnaco, Va Bien and One Fabulous Moment by Maidenform.
  • Bras and coordinating panties that have the signature look of the brand, including Natori Black Label at Natori Co., DKNY Underwear at Wacoal America, Chantelle, Aubade, La Perla Black Label and Lejaby Rose at Warnaco.

  • Signature-looking sleepwear and at-homewear that gives the consumer a sense of luxury from the likes of Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta at Carole Hochman Designs, Ying Li, Crabtree & Evelyn at NAP, and Natori Black label.
  • Updated renditions of licensed characters at Richard Leeds International, including Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and Olive Oyl, with amusing logos like “Extra Virgin Olive Oil.”
  • New names aimed at the youth market are entering the intimates field. Key examples are Necessary Objects at International Intimates and JLo by Jennifer Lopez at Warnaco.

Mary Krug, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Neiman Marcus, said, “We are thinking outside of the box in terms of advertising and effectively promoting our regular-price business. There was a lot of reflection for fall and strategies for fall. Some vendors did some fall previews and others talked about it. We had a very strong fiscal 2003, which ended in July, and we’re happy with our fall business.”

Krug said the infusion of lingerie looks like bra straps, camis and bustiers in spring ready-to-wear collections have had a positive impact on intimate apparel business.

“It gave us a new twist for spring and we’re having fun,” Krug said.

Ann Caetano, dmm of intimate apparel and hosiery at Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “When I entered this market, everyone was always looking at their recaps and bought what had performed last year, especially in sleepwear. The customer doesn’t want that. She wants something new. I never understood that thinking because it never delivered stellar results.”

Caetano said newness is good, but she cautioned that the emphasis on cutting-edge fashion “will be tough on vendors.”

“Retailers will be asking for minimums and more exclusives,” she said. “But then they might buy deeper with those exclusives. We’ve learned that in basics like foundations you want to be narrow and deep, but in fashion you want to be shallow and wide.”

Rob Bennet, general merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Proffitts, said a key trend he liked for spring-summer 2004 are the “more romantic looks.”

Kim Milligan, dmm of intimate apparel at Proffitts, added, “It’s been a very good market, very trend right and lifestyle driven.” She cited four classifications as looking fresh: bridal, special occasion, juniors’ and young contemporary.

Bob Pawlak, vice president and dmm of intimate apparel, coats and furs at Carson Pirie Scott, said, “We are more open to trying something new and we feel there is a need for change. We have to give customers a reason to buy. I’m trying to grow a better-margin area and develop a niche business.”

As an example, Pawlak said the new Lejaby Rose foundations brand at Warnaco “looks great for the fashion customer and special occasion.”

Donna Wolff, dmm of intimate apparel and hosiery at Bloomingdale’s, stated, “The overwriter for the market was color. I think there’s a combination of things that have highlighted this market. Before, maybe we were not ready for the fashion, or maybe we didn’t like the fashion that was offered. Now, there’s a lot of rich color, the economy is turning around and there is a fashion force.”

Wolff said the Lejaby Rose line of bras and coordinating panties looked “terrific,” daywear by DKNY Underwear was “spectacular” and Wacoal (bras) had added a lot more fashion, freshness and color. She added that a new line of daywear by Puma for back-to-school 2004 looked “very fresh.”

“It hits a whole different customer,” Wolff said. “It’s a customer we lost when Ralph Lauren went out of the [women’s] underwear business. That customer is younger, hipper and has an attitude. It’s very logo driven with the Puma cat.”

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