YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'Paunchless' Pants Appeal to No-Sweat Set

April 12, 1985|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Staff Writer

Where do old antacid commercials go when they've finished their TV run? Well, at least one classic of its genre--an award-winning 1960s Alka-Seltzer ad--has turned up at Koret of California as the unlikely promotional theme for a hot new line of pants and skirts with built-in Lycra panels that inhibit tummy bulge.

The vintage Alka-Seltzer commercial, titled "Whatever Shape Your Tummy's In," shows paunchy people as they go about their business, their bulging stomachs jiggling to a catchy tune. Koret's Separate Impressions division has spliced the old film into a new video takeoff on the same idea--this time focusing on females who can't zip their pants or can't squeeze into small spaces. They can't, that is, until they try Flatter Fit--the pants and shorts with tummy flatteners built right in.

Unhealthy Flab

So who's worrying about tummy bulge in 1985--aside from tubby types who have read recent reports stating that stomach flab is perhaps the most unhealthy flab of all?

The whole idea of built-in tummy flatteners seems anachronistic in this era of physical fitness and fat-free physiques--an era in which jogging, health clubs and Jane Fonda's exercise tapes would seem to have erased the problem of protruding paunches. And haven't most women learned that modern clothes can camouflage any figure flaw--with no girdle-like contraptions needed?

The answer, apparently, is no. But even Richard Banks, president of Koret, North America, didn't believe it for a while.

While visiting the May Co., Laurel Plaza, recently, Banks admitted that prototype Flatter Fit garments hung around his offices for more than a year. A good idea whose time had passed, he and his colleagues thought. Then Banks asked his wife to try on the samples. "She's conservative but modern, a perfect test candidate for new ideas," Banks says. And after bearing seven children, "she has a bit of tummy bulge," he adds.

His wife loved the pull-in pants.

Further market testing proved that she was not alone. "Thousands of women all over this country, even thin ones, are inconvenienced by their little paunches," Banks found. "A paunch ruins the line of your clothes. You can't wear pleated pants, for example, because your stomach makes the pleats pop open."

Bulges Ruin Lines

A tummy bulge will also ruin the lines of slacks and shorts that otherwise fit perfectly, he says. A larger size would be too big. But the right size looks too small because it pulls across the stomach.

After six weeks of further testing, Banks and colleagues decided to go for broke, making a huge investment in production of the pants and shorts. It was a gamble.

"The garment business turns on a dime," Banks explains. "If you launch a new style and it sells, you have to immediately replenish the store's stock. So you must have garments ready to ship. Your company's reputation is on the line.

"But if the style doesn't sell, you're stuck with all those pants that nobody wants. You've lost the whole investment."

The gamble paid off. Banks says the Separate Impressions division of Koret has sold $30 million worth of Flatter Fit pants and shorts in about four months, proving--well, nobody knows quite what.

Paunchiness Unavoidable

Banks thinks that the success of his product is partly due to the fact that dieting, exercise and better nutrition have not yet (and may never) become an obsession with millions of women. Those women still clean their plates, enjoy hot fudge sundaes and get their greatest workouts while cleaning their kitchen floors. What's more, even health nuts, he believes, cannot avoid paunchiness if they've had lots of babies or simply don't do exercises for their stomach muscles.

Is this a sign that girdles themselves are on the comeback trail? Banks won't venture a guess on that. He does say, however, that Flatter Fit has added skirts with tummy-control panels to its next collection. And based on what he's seen so far, he thinks they'll be "dynamite."

Los Angeles Times Articles