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Unmentionables Get Tongues Wagging as Boudoir Chic Hits Runways

A Model Walks the Runway
A model walks the runway during the Isaac Mizrahi show at New York Fashion Week in September. Source: Dan & Corina Lecca/Isaac Mizrahi New York via Bloomberg ISAAC

Unmentionables may be the talk of the runways at New York Fashion Week next week.

Lingerie has stolen the spotlight in women’s spring fashion, with looks like Proenza Schouler’s $1,225 layered silk slip dress and Herve Leger’s $1,350 corset-inspired sheath at Saks Inc. and Bloomingdale’s. Club Monaco is selling $89 slips that peek out under skirts, along with lacy camisoles.

“Lingerie is a great way to project femininity -- it is about alluding to what is underneath,” said Caroline Belhumeur, a senior vice president at Club Monaco, owned by New York-based Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. “As boudoir-inspired styles are having a major moment, they are our starting point for the layering trend.”

The new fashion’s exposed bras, negligee-style evening gowns and fluffy marabou wraps may tempt women ready to revive their wardrobes now that the recession is over, said Marie Driscoll of Standard & Poor’s in New York. That newness is key to persuading value-conscious shoppers to spend, potentially helping vendors make up for surging manufacturing costs this year, the apparel equities analyst said.

That may give a needed boost to intimate apparel, whose sales shrank 1 percent to $10.1 billion in 2010, compared with a 0.9 percent gain the previous year, according to NPD Group Inc. Total women’s apparel sales rose 3 percent to $107.6 billion last year, after dropping 4.8 percent in 2009, said the market research firm in Port Washington, New York.

The emphasis on slinkiness may sway shoppers because it’s such a departure from previous seasons, when more masculine styles like military designs dominated, said Stephanie Solomon, fashion director of Macy’s Inc.’s Bloomingdale’s stores.

New Direction

“We’re going in a complete opposite direction,’ Solomon said. ‘‘That is the great nature of fashion.”

That feminine influence emerged in the Spring 2009 collection of Phi, the now-defunct brand of Susan Dell, wife of Dell Inc. founder Michael, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at Doneger Group. The style featured in spring collections and will likely appear in fall looks during New York Fashion Week, which starts Feb. 10, said Morrison, whose New York-based firm forecasts style trends.

Lingerie from different eras is inspiring designers, from the Marie Antoinette-style corsets of Max Azria’s spring collection for Herve Leger to the grandmotherly girdles suggested by John Galliano’s designs. Jean Yu, a lingerie designer who collaborated on Rag & Bone’s spring collection, produced sporty harness bras with a futuristic feel.

Craze’s Underpinnings

The underpinnings of the undergarments craze: skin-tone colors, “ditzy” florals and soft, transparent fabrics like chiffon and organza, Morrison said. Formal dresses feature sheer panels, like the peach-pink J. Mendel design actress Natalie Portman wore on the cover of Vogue’s January edition. Flourishes include cross-over backs, oversize hook-and-eye fastenings and grosgrain ribbon trim, Morrison said.

This isn’t the first time lingerie has gone in-your-face. Pop star Madonna flaunted innerwear as outerwear over the decades, perhaps most famously with the conical bra designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier worn during her Blond Ambition Tour.

The "less is more" trend kept attracting eyes as supermodel Kate Moss and actor Mark Wahlberg bared much for Calvin Klein ads in the early ’90s. The current trend’s more demure approach is “more realistic for the consumer,” Morrison said. Saks Fifth Avenue’s women’s fashion director, Colleen Sherin, suggests pairing delicate garments with casual ones, like a marabou shrug with jeans.

Still, success depends on knowing how to skirt the line between sweet and scandalous. Women who have pulled off the look, including actress Chloe Sevigny, manage to hit the right balance between the two, said lingerie designer Yu, who has her own Manhattan boutique.

“Wearing something that is revealing is a provocation that has a lot more risk involved,” Yu said. “You really have to summon all your confidence. Without it, it just isn’t going to work.”

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