Brazilian bikinis, oil-filled bra cups, outsize prints, and heavily re-embroidered laces were just some of the novelties on show at the recent Lyon Mode City lingerie and beachwear trade fair. Spring/summer 2004 promises to be a riot of colour and innovation, as Sonia Roberts finds out.

Techniques honed in over half a century of producing conveyor belts for heavy industry are now being deployed to produce better bra straps by the Chiorino SpA group. The Biella Italy-based company showed its latest range at the Interfilière fabric and accessories section of the annual Lyon Mode City lingerie and beachwear trade fair.

Elsewhere in the show moulded bra cups filled with capsules of cosmetic oil made news as part of the Huit range, while polystyrene beads built into the padding of Chanterelle's Delice collection provide discreet in-wear massage.

At Glisa the story was of a new style strapless bra which is also backless, the silicone filled cups being self adhesive. The line will be marketed under the name Nubra.

Strapless bras are also appearing this year in several major branded beachwear ranges. But the big news on the beachwear front is that bikini tops are beginning to take a quite different design direction from bras sold in lingerie departments.

Upper storey support
For summer 2004 if a swimmer requires upper storey support there will be little point in trawling the rails where two piece costumes are displayed. For the prevailing bikini top comprises two tiny triangles of fabric linked only by a section of rolled ribbon, a plastic ring or a tasselled tie, leaving a deep cleavage between the breasts.

Marlies Dekkers Sundressed

Instead of the rounded, pre-moulded cups favoured by foundation garment manufacturers, the line for bikini tops is relaxed and natural. Designers of the Free by Gottex range, however, have also chosen to adorn their bikini tops with zip fastened pockets.

As far as one piece costumes are concerned, stretch fabrics have never been more eye-catching. Giant bunches of tulips full the entire front of one-pieces from German manufacturer Marayan Mehlhorn, while the Anita range, which also includes maternity swimwear, picks up on the fashion for super-size, swirling abstract patterns.

In prints for both the beachwear and lingerie markets there's a feeling for what the Europeans call Persian motifs and the Brits would categorise as Paisley, most often executed in the rich tones associated with oriental carpets.

Latin American inspiration
The swimwear trade is also looking to Latin America as its inspiration for fun fruit motif prints on both solid and mesh polyamide fabrics. Brazilian exhibitors at the fair have doubled in number since last year, and the importance of their influence was reflected in the decision by manufacturers from other regions to name ranges implying that they too emanate from Brazil. The Ipanema collection from Maly Ley, which actually originates in Germany, was a classic example.

Decorations embellishing Brazilian bikinis include seashells, coconut husk, mock semi precious gemstones - and in one instance miniature pearl buttons sewn all over the fabric. Several companies said it was possible to incorporate such hand applied decoration on garments selling at internationally competitive prices because of the large pool of outworker labour available to Brazilian manufacturers.

By the same token, the use of handcrafted crochet fabrics becomes a viable possibility for Brazilian firms.

Brazilian manufacturers are also introducing suede - or at least manmade fibre fabrics which simulate the look and handle of suede - for fashion beachwear.

Jolidon lingerie
Interestingly, the Hyosung Corporation claims that its latest M2 Micro Miracle branded fibre, which it describes as an "innovative polyester," is ideal for the creation of mock suede fabrics. Within the EU, the Rossingnol fabric range is strong on water-safe mock suedes targeted to the swimwear trade.

In lingerie the thong is still a feminine underwear must-have. At Lyon the normally sedate couture house of Nina Ricci probably produced the tiniest thong in the show, consisting of just two white straps and a well placed artificial flower.

In lingerie generally, however, the first stages of a return to a more covered up look was indicated at Lyon by the frequency of narrow satin edging the breast bands of bras and the high-cut leg lines of bikini panties.

In nightwear and homewear too, the gap between a crop top and lower garment is now frequently filled in - although still with a fabric sheer enough to display the presence of body jewellery or tattoos underneath. For consumers too timid to get their lower backs tattooed, briefs with a tattoo-like motif meant to show over the top low slung jeans made an entrance on more functional underwear.

Feminine laces
In more overtly feminine lingerie, heavily re-embroidered laces are back in style. Such fabrics form a major part of lace ranges from the Far East and are being particularly promoted by manufacturers such like Thailand's Gamma Textile Manufacturing.

At Lyon the company proudly displayed its Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. This lines up with the announcement that Calais lace producer Noyon intends to introduce an environmentally friendly lace range.

Gamma now claims to be Thailand largest manufacturer of laces for the lingerie trade with regular export sales to customers in Europe, Africa and across Asia. The Gamma colour palette for spring centres around classic tones, with black, white and cafe au lait expected to be the strongest sellers.

Elsewhere, pink lingerie fabric and lace is being tipped as the spring/summer best seller. But instead of the pastel shade normally preferred for underwear, this is a sharp and zingy sugar candy tone.

Sonia Benicio swimwear
Similarly, vivid lime green makes its debut as a 2004 beachwear colour. From Los Angeles, lime green is a major swimwear story for Anne Cole, which matches most of its swimwear lines with horizontally striped long sleeved T-shirts.

Black and white is no longer considered a "boring" combination for the beach, but once again a hot fashion combo. The feeling for white is strengthened by the fact that today's improved dyeing technology means white fabrics no longer carry the risk that they will turn transparent when wet, nor indeed yellow with age.

Meanwhile in dedicated swimwear fabrics the chlorine resistant properties which were such a talking point at Interfilière two years ago have lost their novelty appeal and are now regarded as the norm of the functional swimwear trade.

Seamfree advances
Some of the biggest technical advances at Interfilière and Lyon Mode City were to be found in the seamfree garment field.

Expert Analysis

Lingerie 2002
Key Note estimates the total UK retail sales of women's hosiery, corsetry and lingerie to be £1.77bn in 2001. This represents a 6.9% rise since 2000. The market is made up of the hosiery, corsetry and lingerie sectors. Retail sales for hosiery and lingerie stood at £624m and £552m respectively, in 2001. Brassières alone account for 33.4% of the market, with retail sales of £589m in 2001. Don't miss this brand new report with forecasts to 2006. Find out more here.

 

The application of edgings to bras and waistbands to pants without the need for any sewing is made possible with a product called simply Sewfree. This latest addition to the Bemis range of American lingerie trade accessories takes the form of an elasticated adhesive film which will adhere to virtually any type of fabric but is particularly suitable for use in garments where stretch and recovery are an integral part of their appeal - as is the case with most seamless knit ranges.

Also from the US, Macra Lace has a labour-saving and therefore cost cutting story to tell. It is now offering "engineered" bra, body and panty panels prefabricated or "engineered" into jacquard knit fabrics. When laser cut from the surrounding cloth the panels require only a couple of seams to convert them into complete garments.

At the moment buying in this labour saving form will cost customers only around 25 per cent more than buying plain fabric of the same type, with substantial discounts available for volume orders.

Macra can also supply vest top/T-shirt panels with lacy inserts and decorative motifs including diamante studding incorporated into fabrics sold by the metre. Macra expects export demand for this line from manufacturers worldwide.

By Sonia Roberts.