By  on September 19, 1994

NEW YORK -- Retailers are flexing an unusual amount of advertising muscle to maximize the booming consumer demand for casual and fashion looks in legwear this fall.

Such items as thigh-highs, over-the knees and knee-highs are being spotlighted at regular prices in a series of large newspaper ads, as well as in catalogs and other mailing pieces. Sheers, which have been a problem area, are sharing the upbeat atmosphere.

The extent of these promotions is atypical for hosiery, where advertising is generally reserved for line introductions and off-price sales, retailers pointed out.

In some cases, the early demand for the expansive new offerings in casual legwear inspired the stores to do the advertising, and the efforts are paying off.

Hosiery sales increased "tremendously" after Boston-based Filene's featured Hue's $12 thigh-highs, CK Calvin Klein's $18 over-the-knee styles and 16 other fashion items by Kenneth Cole, Liz Claiborne and DKNY in a full-page ad in the Boston Globe, according to Phyllis Johansen, vice president of creative merchandising. Fall hosiery sales to date have already doubled last fall's total volume, she said.

In the past four weeks, Filene's has sold 60 percent of its tights, thigh-highs and socks, she said. The chain has increased its fashion legwear offerings from 11 stores to more than 22.

"We've never seen anything like it. When we ran the ad, we didn't know if our customer in Boston would understand it," she said. "For a brand-new business, it's very exciting."

In the next few weeks, the company will feature $7 Givenchy Bodygleamers in ads in the Boston Globe and the Hartford Courant.

Designed to highlight key fashion looks, such advertising has not been done previously for hosiery, Johansen said.

"The customer hasn't seen novelty items in legwear in a long time," she said. "But it's not something she has to see in 500 magazines to know she needs to have."

In July, Saks Fifth Avenue highlighted its private label cotton thigh-highs and over-the-knee styles in an ad in the New York Times. Since then, the company has featured similar styles by Ralph Lauren and DKNY in its fall Folio catalog as well as in a full-page ad in mid-August in the Times.The company had never featured casual legwear before so prominently, according to Gail Pisano, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for accessories and hosiery. "We started selling thigh-highs and over-the-knees in July in 100-degree heat," she said. "It's fresh, new, exciting and affordable fashion. This is the single largest phenomenon that has happened in the legwear market in a while," she said.

Visuals of thigh-highs and other new fall trends have been placed in each of the company's 42 stores, and leg forms have been set up in some stores, she said.

As part of its "10 To Count On" advertising campaign, Macy's East this month ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, promoting Charter Club private label argyle tights at $10, Hot Sox's striped thigh-highs at $13.50 and eight other fall fashion items.

This was the first time the company has taken a fashion-forward approach to advertising full-priced legwear, according to Benny Lin, fashion director.

"The whole fashion hosiery category has exploded since spring," he said. "Women are tired of black opaques. They want something new, whether it's thigh-highs, white knee-highs or glittery tights."

In 58 stores, Macy's East has expanded hosiery departments by 200 square feet for an area designated for thigh-highs and knee-highs. Macy's edited its belt offerings to give hosiery more space, according to a company spokesman. Posters of the "10 To Count On" legwear ad are on display to highlight the campaign.

"There is such a wide variety of merchandise for fall, and this is a good way to capitalize on the trend," he said. "We're getting immediate feedback directly on the sales floor."

Black sheer thigh-highs, patterned knee-highs and black sheers are expected to contribute to the low double-digit percentage increase that is projected for fall, said Lin, adding metallic, fishnet and lacy hosiery should spur winter sales.

The average customer spends between $6.50 and $12 on items, Lin said. "For a relatively insignificant investment, customers can achieve a new look," he said. Lord & Taylor this season advertised full-priced casual legwear for the first time, according to Lavelle Olexa, vice president of fashion merchandising. After seeing strong hosiery sales this summer, the company decided to run a full-page ad in the New York region to highlight new styles, she said. "This ad draws attention to an already hot classification. It's important to have an educational aspect, when you can," Olexa said. "It can only pay off for the store."CK Calvin Klein's $18 striped over-the-knee, Hot Sox's $13.50 striped thigh-highs and CK Calvin Klein's $22 argyle tights were featured in the fall catalog for 25 Macy's West and Bullock's stores, according to a company spokeswoman. The cover shot also featured a model wearing DKNY's gray, ribbed over-the-knee style.

Legwear will also be getting a prominent spot in Macy's West's big annual fall fashion show to be held in San Francisco Sept. 22 and 23. Thigh-highs, plaid and striped tights and bold opaques will be key items.

Neiman Marcus is featuring Ellen Tracy microfiber tights, DKNY heather ribbed over-the-knee styles and other items in a series of direct mail pieces. In the past year, the company has featured hosiery in every direct mail piece that focuses on ready-to-wear, according to a company spokesman.

Donna Karan's $45 cashmere, nylon and Lycra spandex trouser socks are one of this fall's featured looks.

"Every month, we're positioning ourselves with new items to reach a cross section of people," said Sandra Wilson, Neiman's accessory fashion director. Earlier this year, billboards promoting Donna Karan hosiery at Neiman Marcus were posted in Houston and Los Angeles, and additional ones will be posted in Las Vegas, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas in the next five months.

"Legwear is more of a fall fashion statement than it's been in the past," Wilson said. "We're working to make it more apparent."

Last week, Bloomingdale's ran a 7/8-page ad in the New York Times, promoting 10 pantyhose styles along with shoes, with the headline: "Fall's most modern pumps and hosiery are here." Legwear styles, featuring private label, CK, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Donna Karan and DKNY, ranged in price from $6 to $11.50.

Stores saw immediate results, according to Kal Ruttenstein, fashion director.

Apart from sheer pantyhose, over-the-knee styles and other casual and fashion trends are generating sales that are already 25 percent ahead of last fall, he said. Bloomingdale's periodically features hosiery in its ad campaigns and will continue to do so in accordance with trends, Ruttenstein said.

"Business is very good," he said. "Even nude hosiery is selling for the first time in a long time."Price promotions, however, are not being entirely forgotten. Several J.C. Penney private label over-the-knee styles were featured all at the one price of $3.50 a pair, on the cover of its circular promoting its annual back-to-school sale. The styles regularly sell for $3.50 to $5. Inside the book, the company devoted a full page to such items as boot socks sale-priced at $4.31, normally $5.75, and patterned tights at $6.50, normally $9.

An $8 million increase in sock sales -- a 20 percent gain compared with last year -- is projected for the year, according to Gail Washmon, assistant hosiery buyer.

"We've had an overwhelming response to the circular," she said. "The phones have not stopped ringing, and we're scrambling to get more merchandise to the stores."

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