Natasha Poly Leavers lace bodysuit Etam

A HUNDRED CANDLES: Etam has cause to celebrate this year. The French brand will fete its 100th anniversary with a special edition of its annual innerwear and swimwear catwalk extravaganza at Paris’ Centre Pompidou on Tuesday, followed by a party where French rapper Joey Starr is to perform.

Produced by Paris-based agency Made in K, the show is to be live-streamed. That won’t be a first for Etam, which has since 2009 broadcast its runway shows, which are now followed by an average of two million viewers.

The brand is also one of the pioneers of the see-now-buy-now trend. On Tuesday, people will be able to shop its 75 silhouettes online directly from the runway and in Etam stores starting Wednesday.

The catwalk will showcase a capsule collection of a dozen pieces in Leavers lace made with Calais, France-based Noyon, which was created specially for Etam’s centennial. The limited-edition pieces will be available in select stores. “The most expensive piece is a Leavers lace bodysuit priced at 100 euros [or $112 at current exchange]. It’s a price with no margin given the quality of products,” said Laurent Milchior, chairman of Etam Group — which includes the 1.2.3 and Undiz retail chains — and the company founder’s grandson.

Etam recently dipped into the art world, having tapped 12 artists including Erwin Olaf and Liu Bolin to create works around the theme of women’s independence. Those are on show at the K11 gallery in Shanghai and the exhibit is slated to travel to Paris in October, when the contemporary art fair FIAC is in full swing. The pieces are to be auctioned at the end of the year, with profits going to Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation, which helps children with special needs in Russia. The model was Etam’s face between 2009 through to the fall 2015 season, followed most recently by Natasha Poly and Andreea Deacon, who appeared in the label’s visual merchandising images.

Milchior said Vodianova has helped propel the brand to new levels of awareness.

Some 80 company-owned lingerie stores, including 45 Etam doors and 35 Undiz locations, are slated to open this year, mostly in Asia and South America. “Our international development is focused on lingerie versus ready-to-wear,” said Milchior, citing markets with high potential such as Mexico, Chile and South Korea. Looking ahead, Etam is eying further international expansion, bracing for an eventual face-off with Victoria’s Secret in North America.

“We’re actively exploring [there]. I don’t believe in the franchise model for the U.S., but in a partnership with the right local player. If we enter the market in two years from now, it would be good,” Milchior said.

Today, Etam counts around 300 lingerie stores in France and 325 abroad. In China, the brand opened its first store selling innerwear last fall in Shanghai’s Super Brand Mall. “The lingerie market in China is very big. Products were basic. Today, there’s a demand for more glamorous, fun products,” the executive said, noting the best-selling styles there have a wide strip under the breast, no spacer and more coverage of a woman’s back than in the West.

Speaking of Etam’s domestic market, he said new store openings aren’t on deck, but existing locations in France will be made larger. Plans are to double the average current surfaces to around to 4,305 square feet from between 1,615 and 3,230 square feet.

Meanwhile, the company is investing heavily in digital, logistics and data-gathering, according to Milchior. Etam Group is rolling out its Undiz Machine concept, which is a compact store where customers place orders through screens and products are delivered via “tubes” directly from stockrooms without the sales staff’s intervention. “The cross-channel is very important,” said Milchior. “We’re learning from Undiz Machine how to deploy a concept for Etam, but that won’t involve tubes.”

Etam started as a hosiery business in 1916, launched lingerie in 1924, rtw in 1963, and added beauty and activewear in 2014. It has been publicly quoted since 1997. In 2015, the group generated sales of 1.29 billion euros, or $1.43 billion at average exchange. With 14,500 employees, it counts 4,047 stores overall, including 770 in France and 2,844 in China.