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Why Are US Lingerie Labels Afraid of Prints?

boring black bra

Who knew that the very people who made psychedelic tie-dyes popular in the 1960s could be so conservative when it came to their undergarments? Despite all the recent developments in digital-textile printing, it appears that U.S. consumers are content to stick with basic black or beige bras and panties—and lingerie labels are happy to fill stores with more of the same.

It’s time for that to change, stressed Jos Berry, founder and CEO of trend forecasting and consulting agency Concepts Paris, speaking Monday at Interfilière New York, a one-day event showcasing fabrics, accessories and production capabilities from 48 international mills and manufacturers at Manhattan’s Altman Building.

“Be aware that a lot of business is happening in a different way and color is playing a major role,” Berry said, pointing out that florals in particular—lush on the catwalks of Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Jason Wu and more at the most recent round of ready-to-wear shows during New York Fashion Week—can extend their influence to underwear.

“Flowers have become something for every age. That was difficult to tell to a lot of people before because flowers had been there for a long time as a dowdy, old-lady dress thing. But they’re really for every age,” she noted.

A quick scan of the Interfilière show floor proved international mills were mindful of their audience, with many opting to play it safe and bring mostly solids in jewel tones or pale pastels.

“The U.S. is very shy with print,” agreed Emmanuelle Bonnetin, CEO of Rocle by Isabella, a first-time exhibitor from France that works with such top names in intimates as Triumph. “We are known for our prints, our jacquards, our flocking, but the U.S. doesn’t want that.”

She referenced a popular multicolored floral fabric that does well for the company in Europe and compared it to a print the day’s showgoers preferred: a matte gray featuring finely printed off-white fans.

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Marco Boselli, fourth-generation owner of Italian vertical mill Boselli, which supplies the likes of La Perla and Victoria’s Secret, said the only pattern his American lingerie clients want is animal print. “We definitely sell more solids than prints to the U.S.” he said.

But as Berry maintained, “Those bras we want to wear all the time need to be visually attractive…We cannot continue to put very plain items in shops.”

Especially as more and more women are starting to wear sleepwear as daywear (read: pairing pajama tops with jeans or layering kimonos over dresses). “It’s almost becoming a parallel universe,” she said, “This constant demand to mix and match your things together in a different way.”