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NEW YORK — The focus on fashion and newness overtook the apprehensive market mood related to retail consolidation and lackluster sales this month as merchants reviewed assortments and buys for transitional and holiday selling.

Market week, which preceded Mother’s Day, one of the biggest gift-giving holidays for lingerie, was split into two camps: vendors that showed new product or collections for the fourth quarter and Valentine’s Day programs, and those who recapped March offerings for fall and back-to-school. In some cases, particularly in foundations, spring collections were either introduced or expanded with additional colors and key items.

While May typically is a quiet market, a number of manufacturers seized the opportunity to schmooze with retailers and present new marketing and advertising strategies. It also was a time to test reaction to fresh ideas and concepts as well as secure exclusive labels for 2006. All of these factors weighed in as executives mulled the ratio of brands and private label, fashion and basics, and the right balance of quantities and assortments needed to survive in a challenging business environment.

From a retailer’s perspective, Maureen Stabnau, senior vice president of merchandising at Bare Necessities, a lingerie specialty chain based in Newark, N.J., said: “May is two months down the road from March, but it still remains an important market for us, because we want to offer uniqueness of product, silhouette and color. It’s also a good time to review fourth quarter and wrap up Valentine’s Day.”

Stabnau said a highlight was how manufacturers are dramatically “picking up on ready-to-wear trends,” particularly a spectrum of rtw colors such as rich hues of metallics, a wide range of berry shades and earth tones, and anything that shines. She singled out three vendors for “great color” — On Gossamer, Hanky Panky and Jockey’s relaunch of bras in fashion colors.

Regarding anxiety over retail consolidation, Stabnau observed, “Everybody wants to see how the Federated-May merger works out. A lot of people are a little hesitant right now.”

Victor Lee, president of NAP Inc., said the mood on the part of retailers as they look ahead to spring 2006 was mixed.

“There are the ones who are doing OK, and it was business as usual. Better retailers don’t seem to be as concerned, and the focus continues to be on luxury,” Lee said. “But I think a lot more are suffering more than they would like to say. At the time of the [May 2-6] market, the price of gas was sky high, and people were and continue to be uncertain. Average consumers are not as concerned about the conflict in Iraq as they are about making ends meet at home.”

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Seth Morris, president of the Carole Hochman Group, sized up the pace of business this way: “May market is sort of a no-man’s land. We use it as a postmortem opportunity to evaluate business.”

Carole Hochman, chairman and design director of the Hochman firm, agreed saying, “I consider the other markets [January, March, August, November] to be hurricane season for us. May allows us to strategize and do it better the next time.”

“We had overwhelming response to color plays like stretch lace camis and thongs in one color trimmed with another contrasting lace,” said Gail Epstein, president and creative director of Hanky Panky. She said the increased interest in color opened up an up-and-coming classification: stretch lace sleepwear items.

Jennifer O’Connell, designer of sleepwear by French Jenny and licensed characters at Richard Leeds International, said the company’s most successful initiative for transitional and spring selling was “innovation and newness.”

“I think the mood overall was the stores might be a little apprehensive, but when there’s newness, it works.”

A spokeswoman for Kayser-Roth Corp., which manufactures Hue intimates, said sleepwear for Valentine’s Day that did not have a lingerie look was a best-booking classification. “We’ve continued with fun little embellishments like embroidered hearts, grosgrain ribbons, bugle bead trims and contrasting waistbands. These are not sexy lingerie gifts. They are gifts for your mother or your best friend,” said the spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, she said Kayser-Roth’s rollout of No nonsense panties has been expanded to 10,000 food and drug store doors from 1,000 when it was launched in August 2004. “The demand has far exceeded out expectations,” she said.

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