Generous curves are back in style - in the French home market at least. Recent research undertaken by leading manufacturers indicate that D cup sizes or larger now hold an l8 per cent share of sales into the French market and that 9.5 per cent of all French women aged l5 or over fall into the "large" size category when choosing any form of lingerie.

It is obviously a finding to delight foundation garment trade executives such as Philippe Berthau, chairman of Empreinte, a company that has traditionally striven to service what even it previously assumed to be merely a niche market but which now finds itself a mainstream manufacturer with soaring sales.
In future however M Berthau will be facing fiercer competition as large size specialists from other nations begin to home in on what they now see as the honeypot French market.

For instance the UK firm of Eveden which regards fittings up to E cup as "standard merchandise" hopes to establish a "firm foothold" in France over the next few months. It believes its greatest strength is its ability to offer a range of high fashion swimwear in fittings that flatter larger ladies.

Meanwhile Rigby & Peller, an essentially upmarket British brand with ambitions to "make it big" in France, will be playing as its trump card the status symbol appeal of its role as long term royal warrant holder.

Berlei, a member of the British-based Gossard group, has chosen the new Disappear range to spearhead its drive to extend cross-Channel exports. In this collection the emphasis is on a gently moulded line and on the added comfort afforded by fabrics selected from the latest Eurojersey ranges for their supersoft handle.

For Freya it is topical colour which is seen as the key to success in marketing British bras to French women. "The current young market taste is for either an ultra bright or an interestingly funky dark colour palette," they comment. "So these are the colours we will be using right across our size range which for us runs from A cup through to G - bearing in mind the fact that not all larger than average women are middle aged. These days, as the latest statistics from France remind us, they can just as easily be in their twenties or even teenagers."

But it is not only British manufacturers who are now challenging French large size specialists on their home ground. From neighbouring Belgium Prima Donna is putting faith in its reputation for selecting fabrics which provide "efficient" - and some of Europe's prettiest - support for bigger bosoms as the way to win new customers in style conscious France.

Latching on to trends already established as important foundation garment fashion stories, it will be making extensive use of embroidered motifs on bra cups to lend a distinctive character to the ranges it intends to launch into the French market over the next few months.

By Sonia Roberts