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NEW YORK — There was a little of everything in the lingerie mix during this month’s market week, including a snippet of spring 2007, a recap of Valentine’s Day programs and immediate items for fall and holiday selling.

Vendors were trying to provide everything for everybody, especially retailers who attended the January and February markets, but have procrastinated until the 11th hour to complete their buys.

The traditional turning point — when buyers mainly from smaller, specialty operations complete orders — comes after the results of Mother’s Day business, one of the busiest gift-giving seasons of the year for lingerie, sleepwear and robes. The time frame gives retailers a window where they can assess which trends are selling.

Chuck Nesbit, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Chico’s FAS Inc., said the company will pursue full-figure bras for its successful chain of Soma lingerie stores.

“We are looking at the whole end of the market right now,” Nesbit said. “Lunaire had some very interesting full-figure bras, and I was quite pleased with the fashion side of the Lunaire line. We’ve just added DDDs, because the demand has been phenomenal, and Cupid is doing some nice things in shapewear. They are working on the lighter end of shapers.”

Meanwhile, this year’s May venue was more active than usual and proved to be advantageous for merchants and manufacturers, who strategized over new advertising and marketing campaigns as well as in-store promotions and point-of-sale materials. It also gave executives an opportunity to exchange information on specific products, styles, colors and prints that several major retailers have targeted as exclusives.

Exclusives are a sensitive topic in the highly competitive marketplace, especially as major stores such as Dillard’s, Belk, J.C. Penney and mid-tier merchants like Kohl’s and Mervyn’s are striving to differentiate themselves from the monolithic presence of Federated and the Macy’s nameplate.

One way vendors are approaching the problem is by offering an overabundance of styles in a wide variety of colors, prints and fabrics. Some are also introducing new labels or positioning brands for specific stores and channels of distribution.

“We had an exceptional market, and we had a lot of different brands for a lot of different reasons,” said Charles Komar, president and chief executive officer of The Komar Co. “Each retailer is trying to define their niche and a reason to exist. As they get larger and larger, they get more demanding. So we work very hard on each brand and where we’re targeting them for each retailer. Nobody wants the same thing.”

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Komar noted that two licensed designer brands received an especially strong reaction: Vera Wang Intimates, which he described as “phenomenal with retailers,” and Eileen West.

“You have to create product that differentiates, and that’s what Eileen is doing,” Komar said. “She’s been working with new fabrics, lighter-weight pointelles, jacquards and Modal blends. And cotton lawn is making a resurgence over the counter.”

The idea of customization is apparently clicking. One department store secures what it perceives to be a must-have item in a sheer fabric, while a similar style in a different color palette and fabric, such as sleek charmeuse, becomes a contemporary fashion item for specialty chains such as Wet Seal and Anthropologie.

Case in point: A playful chiffon teddy by Baby Phat Intimate Apparel by Kimora Lee Simmons is a top-booking item for department stores, and a rose gold-tone studded hoodie and shorts of cotton knit from the same collection are hot assets for specialty boutiques, said Marc Kimmelman, vice president of sales for Baby Phat at Age Group Ltd.

“For Baby Phat, the differentiation hasn’t been from department store to department store. It’s really about mall specialty variance, catering to a very specific customer who shops specialty boutiques,” Kimmelman said.

Richard Adjmi, president of Age Group, said, “Key items are offered to a variety of retailers. However, we try not to offer the same item to different stores, and [we] do different color palettes, prints, fabric and treatments.”

Regarding department stores, Adjmi said, “They would traditionally buy collections, but now they are buying items, and they constantly want to be on trend in daywear and sleepwear.”

Top-booking trends include:

  • Bustiers and other corsetry.
  • Daywear items that can be coordinated with sleepwear on the selling floor.
  • Flirty baby dolls.
  • Longer, multipurpose tops that have the look of a tunic.
  • Lighter-weight fabrics of pointelle and pima cotton, and micro Modal blends.
  • Brown and pink.
  • Goth-inspired characters, such as a Dark Angel Tinkerbell.

Commenting on Valentine’s Day programs, Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said, “We find May is the appropriate market for our Valentine’s Day collection. We are also finding what works is a balance of soft pinks and darker, flirtier pinks, as well as pretty embroideries, heart prints and the color red. That’s what’s selling. And we’re finding it’s selling best before Valentine’s Day.”

Addressing the issue of exclusives, Radziminsky said, “We show enough merchandise to service a range of stores, from Federated to Dillard’s and Belk. Stores typically select four to five to six key items, so everybody looks somewhat different.”

Richard Leeds, chairman of Richard Leeds International, said May is an ideal time to launch new product.

“We’ve received great reaction to a better three-piece set of washable cashmere, silk and spandex by French Jenny,” Leeds said. “It’s a full-fashioned sweater knit, all done on a sweater machine, and there’s no piling. For spring, we’re looking at machine-washable, two-by-two pointelle of silk and spandex. We are focusing on innovation.”

Leeds added that “anything Goth” was hot for back-to-school programs.

“We took the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ trend and related it to other properties, like a Dark Angel Tinkerbell, Tweety Soprano and Biker Babe Betty Boop,” Leeds said. “The Stupid Factory by David & Goliath remains irreverent with sayings like, “I Have Enough Friends’ and ‘Where My Peeps At’ with yellow chick logos.”