Lingerie Trends for A/W 2016 (and a Few Thoughts on the Lingerie Industry)
It's been a month or since this season's CurveNY, and I've honestly been struggling with if I should even write a trend report this year. Last season, I mentioned how the New York tradeshow isn't really the place to see what's new and exciting in the lingerie world. Yes, it is definitely the place to get a sneak peek at what's coming up in stores and boutiques (which is still important, useful info), but the truth is the most editorial lingerie labels, the brands that invent the concepts we'll see at Curve 3 or 5 or 10 years from now, simply don't attend tradeshows.
Instead, what I'd like to talk about before the very brief paragraph on trends at the bottom of this post is what I'm tentatively calling a "hollowing-out" of the lingerie industry (i.e. fewer and fewer brands taking up more and more market share). Mass market and affordable labels command a growing percentage of the intimate apparel market (think companies like Hanes, H&M, Target, Forever21, ASOS, and Aerie). Similarly, the high-end luxury lingerie sector is doing quite well (large companies like Agent Provocateur and La Perla come to mind, but smaller labels like Fleur du Mal, Chromat, and Lonely are also making great strides). Yet there's very little of the market left to claim between those two extremes unless a brand chooses to be highly specialized (such as Nubian Skin).
Of course, it goes without saying that there are a lot of a mid-market brands in between the budget or luxury sectors (by "mid-market," I'm referring to a Natori or Wacoal price point), but the issue here is that this segment is absolutely dominated by large companies like Natori, Wacoal, Komar, and Victoria's Secret. That leaves thousands upon thousands of ultra-tiny brands competing for an infinitesimally small piece of the intimate apparel market. If this was a pie chart, as few as 15 labels would take up over 80% of the graph. Everything - from the U.S. obsession with t-shirt bras to the comparatively small size ranges of the largest bra companies - becomes clear within that context. There's simply not enough competition, not enough major players, to drive meaningful change.
Obviously, no discussion about the American lingerie market can happen without discussing Victoria's Secret, and much of what I'm seeing in the industry can be attributed to what I call the "Victoria's Secret Effect." If you're outside the United States, it's hard to convey just how dominant this one company is in the American lingerie market. As of this writing, Victoria's Secret commands over 60% of the U.S. intimate apparel market share. For an entire generation and for hundreds of millions of Americans, they've set the standard on what a bra should be - how much it should cost, how it should be made, how long it should last, what sizes it should come in, and where you should be able to buy one.
Furthermore, after years of pinning their hopes on the dream that one day VS would suddenly implode, an entire industry is now having to acknowledge that the way customers buy lingerie has changed...and there's no going back. Customers expect the stores they buy from to have a robust digital presence, to offer free shipping and returns, to stock a nearly limitless size range, and to have a consistent customer service experience (preferably one where the customer is always right). Boutiques that've been slow to establish themselves online or to offer value beyond "free bra fittings" are the ones suffering the most, and many likely won't survive the dramatic upheavals that are changing the industry (including, I believe, the ascent of Amazon as a key market player).
There's a silver lining to all this doom and gloom, however, and that's the rise of a more conscious consumer. Customers are increasingly aware of the relationship between price and quality, and of the fact that rock-bottom prices often mean deplorable working conditions. Many brands have also begun to be more transparent about the realities of design and manufacturing, and the limitations of expanding size ranges and styles in a conservative, price-conscious market. These conversations are just the beginning of that trend, but I believe they'll continue. The future of lingerie (and fashion in general), will be less about cheap, disposable goods and more about garments that are well-made for a fair price.
Now on to the trends!
Key colors for A/W 2016 are grey and burgundy (with a bit indigo and bright white as well), while a major fabric trend for next season is jacquard (along with the reappearance of embroidery). Many brands are playing with sporty, athleisure-inspired details such as high-necked bras and bralettes with wide underbust bands. This more casual influence is also seen in the rise (or re-rise) of loungewear.
Bodysuits are also a major trend item for this upcoming season, with many designed to showoff as garments in their own right not just to wear as layering pieces. Some brands are also tentatively attempting size expansions again, though with less publicity and fanfare than previous seasons given the temerity of the market. Finally, there are a couple of notable newcomers to the luxury lingerie space, including Celeste and Loveday London.
What are your thoughts on the state of the intimate apparel industry and these trends? I know I spent very little time actually talking about trends (there's photos below, of course) but the story at Curve was so straightforward this season that focusing elsewhere seemed appropriate. I'd love to hear what you think about the future of the lingerie industry.