Intimate Apparel: The Penthouse View

Q. Boyer

In establishing your brand and creating mind share, the Holy Grail of goals is to establish such a strong market presence that your brand literally becomes a household name. In some rare instances, it might become a substitute for the very class of product it represents (Kleenex, for example), or get turned into a verb by consumers, referring to the very thing that the product itself does (“Have you tried Googling it?”).

In adult entertainment, due in large part to unfounded stigmas and negative associations surrounding the products we make, achieving this level of branding is very rare, indeed. Of course, maintaining a leading market position can be even harder, making the perspective of the people who operate such brands all the more valuable when it comes to identifying and analyzing relevant market trends.

Our rich history provides plenty of iconic images and content to pull from for our merchandise licensees. -Amanda Byrd, Director Of Licensing Penthouse

To help us sort out substantial, meaningful trends for such “lifestyle brands” that impact the intimate apparel sector, XBIZ turned to Amanda Byrd, director of licensing for Penthouse, one of the adult industry’s most celebrated and recognizable brands. From her post in Penthouse’s licensing division, Byrd is positioned to observe such trends at both a macro and micro level, giving her outstanding insight into market movements that affect retailers, distributors, manufacturers and advertisers alike. In the current market, Byrd says that the most readily identifiable trend for lifestyle brands is the resurgence of vintage apparel styles.

“Iconic fashion houses such as DKNY and Levis are incorporating some of their quintessential pieces from their ’80s and ’90s ensembles into their current collections,” Byrd notes. “This trend is even apparent in some of the popular reality TV shows like ‘American Pickers’ and ‘Pawn Stars’ which celebrate finding items from America’s storied past.”

The timing of this “retro rebirth” is particularly fortuitous for Penthouse, given that the company is poised to celebrate its 45th anniversary as a publication and international brand.

“Our rich history provides plenty of iconic images and content to pull from for our merchandise licensees,” Byrd observes. “The Penthouse covers from the 70s, 80s and 90s feature text call-outs documenting some of the greatest moments in U.S. history, and therefore can retell those stories on a variety of merchandise.”

Also aiding Penthouse’s effort to take advantage of this everything-old-is-new-again trend is the fact that so many prominent mainstream brands are leaping aboard the vintage — including some impressive names that are working directly with Penthouse.

“Embracing the vintage trend has been high profile, luxury fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Philipp Plein who have collaborated with Penthouse to create capsule collections utilizing our vintage covers,” says Byrd. “Sold worldwide in their mono-branded stores, these t-shirts retailed at nearly $400, proving that a piece of history is invaluable. Our iconic vintage covers have also been featured on t-shirt collections sold in Topshop, River Island, Bershka and Burton’s.”

Appropriately enough for a forward-looking brand that also has deep roots in history, Penthouse’s retro marketing efforts include utilizing some decidedly modern utilities and applications, including social media.

“In order to further promote these apparel collections highlighting our covers, Penthouse has started featuring our former Penthouse Pets from the 80s and 90s on our Instagram account @penthouseworld during #tbt (“Throwback Thursday”),” relates Byrd. “Just seeing some of the photography and styling from the past provides instant nostalgia for our loyal fans.”

Another component of Penthouse’s success in promoting all its assorted products, apparel included, is its ongoing effort to establish a strong international presence and establish mindshare in foreign markets, with a particular eye to gaining a foothold in well-populated countries and emerging economic powers.

“I think as with most big companies in the US right now, there’s a strong focus for growth in the ‘BRIC’ countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China,” says Byrd. “Each territory has its opportunities and its obstacles. For all four, one of the biggest challenges we see is that they lack centralized distributors and the ideal ‘big box’ stores as you have here in the States.

“There are a lot of smaller, independent retail chains, very similar to Europe, which means you need a real understanding of the market landscape to choose the right retailer who will reach your core customer. But, while this can be perceived as an obstacle, it can quickly be forgotten when you look at the sheer buying power these countries represent. Billions of people, a nearly untapped marketplace waiting to hear about your products.”

Penthouse has placed particular emphasis on growing its presence in China and India, Byrd said, noting that “China currently has a stronger infrastructure in place for supporting U.S. companies entering the market and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is very proactive in providing business solutions to help manage a smooth working environment.” Having said that, Byrd also emphasizes that “with any new venture, you must understand the individual idiosyncrasies for each territory.”

“In China, for instance, when buyers use online stores to order their goods, the retailers still allow for COD (Cash On Delivery),” explains Byrd. “Because of this, customers can actually try on the clothes they’ve ordered, or test out the electronics as soon as they are delivered. If they decide they do not like the item or it does not fit, they do not have to pay and the delivery company returns the item to the retailer.”

If it all sounds a little daunting, the good news is that there’s a solution to the confusion, and it’s called “vigorous market research.”

“As an apparel or lingerie company, you need to do your research on each market,” Byrd wisely asserts, listing questions that companies should ask themselves: “Where is there a void and how can you and your products fill it? Are there other brands currently doing business in these countries which compliment your collection? Who is their distributor and how do I get a hold of them? Of the growing retail groups, who would be most interested in my product offerings?”

As one would expect from a powerhouse brand that has survived the vicissitudes of the always-tumultuous adult entertainment market for over four decades now, the Penthouse licensing strategy is well-conceived, diverse but never aimless and optimized for an increasingly interconnected and interdependent global market.

Whether you aim to follow in Penthouse’s footprints to the promised land of lifestyle brand-hood, or merely seek to take a few pointers from one of the industry’s biggest and best, paying attention to the moves the “majors” make — right and wrong — is a decision a wise entrepreneur never has cause to regret.