View Slideshow

NEW YORK — The May innerwear market — the third in the last four months — is straining retailers and manufacturers and comes at a critical time for firms, given the challenging state of retailing.

Executives said they are looking forward to next year’s schedule, which will go to a four-market calendar: Feb. 5-9, May 7-11, Aug. 6-10 and Nov. 5-9.

The demand for newness from stores is putting additional pressure on vendors to deliver new brand concepts, innovative products and key items.

While May traditionally is a small market, the changing dynamics of the marketplace because of consolidation have made it a time for retailers and their resources to address a number of issues. The lion’s share of sleepwear, robe and at-homewear makers will continue to show fall and holiday lines, while merchants will wrap up fourth-quarter buys and review programs for Valentine’s Day. In some cases, vendors will preview spring 2007 with trend boards.

However, the majority of spring collections will be presented by foundations firms that require longer lead times for specialized merchandise such as bras and shapers. May also will be a pivotal period to discuss marketing and advertising strategies for 2007.

Addressing the issue of three markets in four months, Richard Murray, president of Wacoal America, said: “The last two markets were crazy. Market weeks are getting a little confusing this year. The transition was difficult. But when it settles down to four markets next year, it will be a lot better.”

Murray said May traditionally is a “very big market for us” because the entire Wacoal and licensed DKNY Underwear collections for spring are unveiled, and November is equally as important as a fall venue for foundations.

“Our business has been very strong, and the markets are a reflection of how you’re doing at retail over the past 30 to 60 days,” he said. “So we expect a very big May market.”

Bob Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal, said, “Probably the biggest idea for spring ’07 is the way women are reacting since bras were featured in the Oprah shows. So many women are getting bra fittings. Oprah has said it’s OK to go up one cup size.”

This story first appeared in the May 1, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Citing a “clear need” for larger cup sizes, Vitale said Wacoal has added three full-figure bra styles ranging in cup sizes 32DD to 42G: a tailored everyday bra, a ribbon-embroidered number and a floral-embroidered style.

“We are also bolstering our contour foam-cup business by adding a DDD cup size for spring,” he said. “And we are adding several more styles for fourth-quarter selling because the post-holiday season has become very important, with people using gift cards after the holidays.”

Styles include a lace minimizer and two color-embroidered styles from the Wacoal Silver Collection.

Vitale added that the licensed line of DKNY Underwear will have a prolific assortment of bras, daywear and sleepwear for spring.

“We are continuing to focus on building our core DKNY bra business and our tabletop panty business of three pair for $24, which has had tremendous success,” he said.

Tolli Love, vice president of marketing for Bali at Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, said a “major cotton panty launch” for department stores will be the focus for spring. The seamless, tag-free panties of 100 percent premium cotton feature flat elastic legs and high stitch density. Sized S to XL, colors include white, black, taupe, blue, heather and pink, as well as fashion colors and prints. Suggested retail is three pairs for $20.

“Bali is one of our major investment brands,” Love said. “We’ve really stepped up the investment for spring 2007, and put significant investment behind the Bali bra and panty program as well as the brand.”

She added that the positioning of the advertising message will be: “Bali is beautiful, Bali makes you beautiful and when you feel beautiful, you are.”

Victoria Vandagriff, president of Elle Macpherson Intimates, said, “I think in totality, there’s never been a lot of steam within the May market because it’s never been a big sleepwear market. But we will show a premium full [bra] range for spring to major stores like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s.”

She added that a cocktail party has been scheduled May 11 for the media, at which Macpherson will be present.

Donna Nadeau, president of the luxury division at The Komar Co., said the “big news” will be the second collection of the licensed Vera Wang Intimates collection of sleepwear and at-homewear.

“Reaction is just getting stronger and stronger, as we know what the customer is responding to at retail,” Nadeau said. “For May, we’ll be showing soft chiffons, very dreamy-looking, floral-printed fabrics, along with ultrasoft knits and ultralightweight yarns in fresh colors like marigold. One of the key things will be button accents, something so significant to Vera because it’s in her ready-to-wear. And there will be a lot of wraparound tulle effect on the bodice and straps.”

Designer Eileen West, whose sleepwear is produced under license by Komar and a foundation line by Chelsea Design Group, said fabric innovation will be her plan for spring.

“We’ll be showing a great new lighter-weight fabric, a Swiss cotton and silk chiffon blend, as well as a new supersoft jersey in dreamy pastel colors,” West said. “The [sleepwear] theme will be Impressionist and French countryside-inspired in unique prints. We’ll also be featuring a blend of cotton and Modal that’s not too slinky, something different like prints on a black ground. It’s a totally new look for my collection.”

Cindy Kelly, president of Hanro USA, said, “For us, May is a very important market for daywear and sleepwear. We use it as a resort time frame between November and January deliveries. It’s kind of like an easy spring that allows us to get a beautiful, fresh spring look to the selling floor.”

Kelly said the resort theme will be an “exotic trip around the world in hot colors….We’ll also be doing an important launch in the micro bra, daywear and panty area, called Sensual.”

Gale Epstein, creative director of Hanky Panky, said thongs for plus-size women will be the company’s key item for spring. The signature lace thongs are in sizes 14 to 20. Colors include neutrals and brights.

“We’ll also have a little fallout from late fall, and a taste of spring offerings in soft gem colors like ruby, carnation and grape,” Epstein said. “There will also be a new Modal thermal fabric available with ruffled lace trim in sleepwear chemises.”

Other companies will be focusing on Valentine’s Day programs. Mark Kimmelman, vice president of sales at Age Group, said, “The Flora Nikrooz [sleepwear] brand is now in 150 Federated doors. We’ll be showing Valentine’s Day items as well as items for early transitional and spring selling. We’ll be doing a Valentine’s Day collection for Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, but that’s a very tight market with 10/25 to 11/25 deliveries.”

“We’ll be showing some transitional knit sleepwear by Cinema Etoile, but mostly items from our Seductivewear collection for Valentine’s Day,” said Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc. “We’ll also be expanding a flat, tabletop folded program of three-piece pajama for bridal and birthday gift-giving.”

Seth Morris, president of the Carole Hochman Design Group, said the company has been ahead of the marketplace’s evolving schedule for the past two years. “We’ve been showing four markets a year for the past two years, no May market,” Morris said. “For us, May is the opportunity to meet with stores, review strategies and store merchandise issues and put closure to planning fall. So when retailers come to the August market, we’ll have a pretty good sense of spring trends, and what the successes and failures are that people are having at this time.”