TWO MAJOR lingerie manufacturers, both big in brassieres, are locked in combat for dominance of the push-up bra market.

From the Sixties until recently, Gossard had produced the Wonderbra, the underwired lace confection which, according to the advertising, enables women to 'say goodbye to their feet'. Feted by Vogue, flaunted by Madonna and Kylie Minogue, the Wonderbra sold to 1.5 million women last year. Then, in May, the rights to the name were reclaimed by Canadelle, the North American licence-holder, which promptly gave them to Gossard's arch-rival, Playtex. (Both Canadelle and Playtex are part of Sara Lee Corp, the giant US manufacturer of everything from tights to teacakes.)

But last week, at the Premier Collections clothing trade show in Birmingham, Gossard came bouncing back with the Ultrabra. An elaborate fashion show was staged to promote the new product, with models dancing to the sound of Sister Sledge's 'We Are Family'. Here, said Robert Kimpton, sales director, was the push-up bra to beat all push-up bras. The new advertising phrase? 'Ultrabra - the ultimate cleavage.'

Store buyers were confused by the two bras. 'They look rather similar,' said Brenda Meynell of Clothesline Originals, Lancaster. Indeed they do.

'Basically they are exactly the same,' said Michelle Halford, a bra designer for a Rotherham-based firm, Panache. 'The only difference is the lace design.'

The word in the trade is that the 'plunge sector' could be in for a profitable few months, and smaller companies, including Panache, are promoting their own lower-priced versions in the hope of cashing in.

Come January, when the Gossard-manufactured Ultrabra and the Playtex-manufactured Wonderbra finally reach the shops, women will be bombarded with advertising.

Ironically, this battle comes at a time when fashion magazines are championing flat-chested models such as Kate Moss. The lingerie industry, however, is taking the view that push-up bras are here for ever.

THE WAY I WAS: Nicholas Roe's series returns next week, when Robert Fripp will reveal the way he was with Debbie Harry.

(Photograph omitted)

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