IRVINE, Calif. -- St. John Knits Inc. reported second-quarter earnings climbed 29.6 percent, to $3.5 million, or 43 cents a share, from $2.7 million, or 33 cents a year ago.

In the quarter ended May 1, sales advanced 29.8 percent, to $32.2 million from $24.8 million.

Robert E. Gray, chairman and chief executive officer, said the results are in line with the company's goal of 20 percent annual earnings per share growth and remarked, "At this point, we have every reason to believe that our momentum will continue well into the future." In the half, earnings increased 35 percent, to $6.3 million, or 77 cents, from $4.7 million, or 57 cents. Sales were up 30.2 percent, to $59.5 million from $45.7 million.

Net sales of the St. John retail division advanced 67 percent in the quarter, to $7 million, and 67 percent in the half, to $12.8 million. Same-store sales vaulted 34 percent in the quarter and 25 percent in the six months. In a conference call with analysts, Karla R. Guyer, senior vice president and national sales manager, said the St. John space at Saks Fifth Avenue's New York flagship had been enlarged from 1,400 square feet to 3,100 square feet, resulting in a 45 percent sales gain since the expansion was completed on May 25. In the first week of June alone, sales at the Saks store more than doubled year-ago results. St. John is now averaging sales of $12,000 a day in the flagship. Guyer said she expects continued strength, with projected volume of $6 million annually at that one door, up from $4 million last year.

Robert Davis, president and chief operating officer, said St. John has enough inventory in Australian finished wool yarn bought at $6.45 a pound to fill its needs until March 1996. He said the current market price is $7.45 a pound and is expected to rise 10 percent between now and October 1995. In the second half of the year, St. John will replace its Sophie Philippart line with its new Griffith & Gray line, which will be in stores in late August and early September. The company said the new line offers more wearable products. Price points will be slightly above St. John's, around $1,000 for an outfit. Kelly Gray, senior vice president and creative director, said St. John's ad campaign for its new scent, St. John, will break in September. The fragrance will be in stores in November.

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