Figure enhancers cinch business

Retailers shopping the innerwear markets have reported strong sales for the first quarter of 1995, and they expect the trend to continue. The most popular items have been push-up bras and shapewear. Consumers are still sensitive to price, but innerwear has not suffered as much as the overall women’s clothing industry. The trends at recent innerwear markets have been sexy underwire bras, waist trainers, terry robes, velvet or velour, and fabric combinations.

With bra fever still high, a strong turnout of buyers, teamed with a bounty of new ideas, sparked last week’s innerwear market.

Traffic was heavy at Madison Avenue showrooms, and at the Intimate Apparel Salon trade show at the Doral Tuscany hotel, as retailers canvassed the market for special-looking foundations, sleepwear and robes.

Key ideas included:

  • Embellished underwire bras and coordinating panties with lots of sex appeal.
  • Waist trainers
  • Beautiful lace-embellished peignoirs.
  • More chemises, especially baby dolls.
  • Lots of cotton terry robes — but in a variety of lightweight blends and stretch cottons.
  • Anything in velvet or velour for entertaining in or out of the home.
  • Combinations of fabrics, such as woven satin and cotton knit.

Despite sluggish apparel sales at stores during the first quarter, retailers and vendors said innerwear business — paced by bras and shapewear — remained strong.

The lust for cleavage has not peaked, say merchants. Many said they were continuing to invest heavily in a wardrobe of bras that suit different lifestyle needs, from padded, push-up styles to seamless numbers.

“We think the Wonderbra phenomenon will continue,” predicted Marcia Haimbach, vice president of intimate apparel at Federated Merchandising Corp.

She cited the padded push-ups as one of three key foundation trends for fall and holiday. The other two are figure-enhancing shapewear, such as a waist cincher vest, and value-priced lines generally.

Reflecting the interest in bra wardrobing, Laurene Gandolfo, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s, was with her buyers ordering more of the number-one selling bra style at Bloomingdale’s: a sports bra by Warner’s Gold. The bra retails for $25.

“We sold 800 pieces in one week,” said Gandolfo.

Leslie Freytag, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus, agreed that foundations, especially shapewear and padded, push-up bras, continue to be “very strong.”

Eva DelGrande, buyer for Religious Sex, a downtown ready-to-wear boutique at St. Marks Place here. said she was looking for “sexy stuff” at the Intimate Apparel Salon.

“We’ve made a special area for bras and corsets,” said DelGrande, “because customers have been asking for more lingerie, especially items to wear under sheer clothing.”

She said she had ordered bras, corsets and garter beits from Gossard and On Gossamer at the trade show.

Among the new items attracting attention, reported Linda J. Wachner, president, chairman and chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group, was a seamless bra of Tencel by Warner’s, designed to wear under T-shirts. The expanded color range in Warner’s Bright Shine group of bras and panties also got a good reaction.

“We are expecting a 20 percent sales increase in the combined Warner’s, Olga and Valentino Intimo business [for the May market] over a year ago,” said Wachner.

Even with the strengthened focus, however, retailers were not ignoring the robe and sleepwear business, traditionally important for fall and holiday.

Haimbach of Federated noted the top ideas in sleepwear and robes fall into “two different businesses.”

“The customer is still interested in comfort and cotton knits at all price levels,” said Haimbach. “On the other hand, there’s still a trend toward shine, and satin and silk sleepwear, and that’s expected to increase sales.”

Neiman’s Freytag said she hadn’t completed buys, but noted she was looking for “beautiful, soft, romantic sleepwear.”

Ron Roberts, general merchandise manager of intimate apparel, shoes and other areas at the Florida division of Jacobson Stores, said very pretty, feminine sleepwear was a key classification.

“Eve Stillman sleepwear was absolutely beautiful, especially the new, lace groups,” said Roberts.

“There’s been a void in at-homewear since Periphery is no longer in business, and there’s a real niche [demand] in that market right now,” said Chris Loo, buyer of sleepwear and at-homewear for Nordstrom stores in northern California.

Loo singled out Lucie Anne by Deena Inc. as having “great robes and at-homewear.” Other lines Loo said she plans to order for late fall and holiday are Eileen West, Jonquil and a new collection that made its debut at Intimate Apparel Salon, called Sidney Sheldon Knightwear, using the name of the novelist in a promotional tie-in.

At the Miss Elaine showroom, Loo noted, “Miss Elaine has become one of our top five vendors, because the lines cover a vast age range, from 20 to 80. The customer definitely knows the brand.”

Rose Marie Marranca, innerwear buyer at Jenss, a four-unit specialty chain in Amherst, sleepwear and at-homewear that have “schmaltz.”

“I came to market to finish fall and look for holiday,” said Marranca, noting that in addition to Miss Elaine, she plans to buy items for at-home entertaining from several vendors: Lucie Anne II; Laura Kidd USA; Diamond T, and Caulfield Apparel, a Canadian firm that showed at the Intimate Apparel Salon.

Pam Williams, owner of Night Gallery, a 25-year-old specialty lingerie and bath boutique in Chapel Hill, N.C., noted, “We are looking for something different, quality products with value, and something that catches the customers’ eye.”

Williams said she plans to buy late fall and holiday sleepwear and robes from such lines as Fernando Sanchez and Christine, another Canadian vendor showing at the Intimate Apparel Salon.

“Queen Anne’s Lace by Eileen West is the prettiest it’s ever been,” said Williams, who was also ordering items at the Eileen West showroom. “And the vintage-looking laces by Christine were absolutely beautiful.”

At the Donna Karan Intimates showroom, Stephanie H. Rehm, innerwear buyer for Brueninger, an upscale rtw specialty store in Stuttgart, Germany, noted, “This is the first time we will be selling lingerie by Donna Karan.

“It’s something absolutely different to European styling in sleepwear and at-homewear, it’s simple and luxurious,” said Rehm. “Even the foundations concentrate on lifestyle items a woman really needs, but in an easy way.”

Berna Goldstein, executive director of Donna Karan Intimates at Wacoal, said buyers “were interested in new fabrications, and daywear items such as camisoles that can be worn under suits.”

Key fabrics in at-homewear included combinations of woven silk and cotton knit, silk georgette with rayon stripes and matte jersey rayon, said Goldstein.

Comfort and value were an important story at the Natori Co. showroom, according to executives there, where top-booking ideas included a young, contemporary line of cotton knit sleepwear by Josie, wholesaling between $19 and $30.

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