Talk about an interesting coincidence: While lingerie retailers and brands came together in New York this week to show off their goods, Lady Gaga was doing pretty much the same thing during a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden a couple of blocks away.
A few people at the CurveExpo lingerie show would love to dress Gaga; but everyone is hoping that a little of the pop queen’s midas touch — and bare-all exhibitionism — rubs off on their industry this year.
Rebounding from the recession was a common theme at the semiannual trade show that drew more than 2,000 retail buyers to view next fall’s product lines from hundreds of competing labels. Admittedly, the intimates industry has fared better than most through two years of worldwide economic misery, but the brand reps staffing booths at CurveExpo this week were nervously counting crowds and tallying up sales orders.
“The crisis is over,” announced Mayouri Sengchanh of the Carlin Group forecasting agency. “It is time to be sexy again. It’s allowed.”
That declaration, made during a seminar on the morning of the show’s first day, sounded a bit premature and a bit too ‘Mission Accomplished’ to be entirely convincing. But by the show’s end on Wednesday, many exhibitors were breathing easier.
CurveExpo veteran Kristian Giambi of Brulee Lingerie said the New York exhibition was “one of my best shows ever.” That sentiment was echoed by Laura Mehlinger of Lola Haze, whose fashion-forward slips and chemises were singled out in Monday’s trends report. She called the 2011 show (her fourth as an exhibitor) “fantastic”.
CurveExpo, which is held next door to the Fashion Coterie apparel exhibition, is the only place you can walk around in your underwear in New York City in February and not look out of place — or catch pneumonia. Crowds were brisk on opening day, which this year was timed to coincide with the President’s Day holiday, and many booths — such as Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Josie Natori, Samantha Chang, Marlies Dekkers and Christine Vancouver — enjoyed an almost-constant parade of buyers looking to place orders.
The show is held twice a year in both New York and Las Vegas, not just to bring buyers and sellers together but also to showcase the breadth and depth of the industry.
This year’s event included lots of sleepwear and loungewear brands, petites labels and plus-sized specialty lines, indie up-and-comers next to international brand names, and even a few surprises — like hip underwear label Pull-In‘s cartoon prints and activewear brand Pure Lime‘s sports bra with built-in heart monitor.
But North American labels hoping to make gains in the luxury lingerie market couldn’t help but look nervously to the back of the exhibition hall, where more than a dozen industry-leading French brands — Empreinte, Huit, Aubade, Chantelle and more — entertained buyers under the collective marketing umbrella known as Lingerie Française. Based on this very impressive display alone, it’s clear that the European heavyweights won’t give up market share without a fight.
Now back to that opening boast: is the crisis, in fact, over? The answer seemed to be, it depends on what you’re selling … and to whom.
“Consumers are buying more things that are interchangeable. That way they get their money’s worth,” said L.A.-based loungewear/lingerie designer Wendy Glez, who last year agreed to do a private label collection for a major department store in order to avoid staff cutbacks. “You have to sell to every market,” she added. “You know the saying, ‘sell to the masses, eat with the rich’.”
At San Francisco label Mary Green, vice-president Liliana Varbanovo said independent brands have had to work harder in all areas to retain customers through the recession. “The worst is over, but things are still not peachy. We still have to work hard,” she said.
“Thankfully, everybody still has to wear panties.”
Not everyone, however, left this week’s CurveExpo with renewed optimism. Ana Jordão, whose Portuguese activewear brand StressOut was making its first attempt to reach U.S. retail buyers, said their collection had attracted little interest — perhaps lost in a room filled with sleek silk kimonos and lace underthings.
“This is maybe not the right show for us,” she said.