By  on October 21, 2011

The tough economy has a silver lining for legwear makers: It’s expected to help drive continued growth next spring, as consumers seek inexpensive ways to dress up an outfit.

Industry executives believe fashion colors, texture and patterns will stimulate retail sales in legwear. Tights — whether solid opaques, semisheers, lace patterns or printed graphics — have been the most popular classification in 2011, and vendors anticipate the demand for fashion legwear will continue to be on an upswing.

After several years of flat sales, sheer hosiery received a major lift this spring as the legwear of choice of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her sister, Pippa Middleton. Pretty, sheer hosiery has also been spotted on a number of celebrities, including Mischa Barton, Hayden Panettiere and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch said fashion tights and sheer hosiery have become a “must-have — whether you’re a celebrity or a fan.”

“Tights are a great way to bring fashion to your wardrobe, even in the springtime when it’s still chilly. The colors for spring are going to be softer, more subtle, but still rich, not watered-down pastels....And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on legwear. You don’t have to go to Fogal to get the look — you can get high fashion legs in a drugstore,” said Bloch.

From a retailer’s perspective, Michele Crawbuck, vice president and brand manager for Fullbeauty.com, said fashion legwear has become a “top-selling accessory.”

“Fashion legwear is a great way to upgrade a wardrobe in this difficult economy, and it’s an inexpensive accessory that offers plenty of options,” explained Crawbuck. “You can dress up a little black dress with hot-colored tights in colors like purple, or with beautiful control-top sheers that we offer in eight fashion colors.”

For spring, fashion legwear at Fullbeauty.com will include sheers with floral, lace and Swiss dot patterns, as well as a best-selling item, leopard-print tights, said Crawbuck.

The forecast for sheer hosiery for spring 2012 is feminine and romantic in a range of nude tones and neutrals such as taupe and cappuccino, as well as a palette of soft cosmetic shades such as blush pink and peach. A number of hosiery brands are also addressing the bare-leg trend that’s been popular with young women since 2000 by offering an alternative: finer-gauge 10-denier hosiery that’s ultralight and gives a better-than-bare look to legs. Run-resistant technology by Invista Inc. and Hanes Hosiery, each with their own proprietary formula, is creating added-value benefits to sheer products as well.

Designer Emilio Cavallini described his direction for spring as “ fashion marrying art in a bold, modern collection.”

“We will be presenting an explosion of color....Highlights include neon brights with trippy graphics, stripes, dots, animal prints and lace....Texture and lightness are key, with cutouts defining socks, tights and leggings,” said Cavallini, noting there will also be amusing faux-tattoo prints. “There is a revival of tights in the market, and spring 2012 promises to be a strong and exciting market.”

He further noted that total legwear sales reflected a 10 percent sales gain at retail this fall, while online sales were up 15 percent in the same period. Cavallini said retail reaction was strong to the new Cavallini Luxury Collection launched this fall, and the brand gained competitive strength in Canada, with Holt Renfrew buying the Luxury collection. At the online level, teaming up with Ruelala.com for the first time generated sales of 500 pairs of tights in two days, representing a 70 percent sell-through on orders, he said.

“We will be focusing on brand developments on many fronts for spring,” continued Cavallini.

“Among our key strategies are international retail expansion, targeted advertising and marketing campaigns, new international showrooms, creative legwear presentations during key global fashion markets and investment in our infrastructure, which will include the expansion and modernization of our factory as well as our updated multimedia flagship in Florence,” he said.

Regarding marketing and advertising, Cavallini stepped up efforts this year with a co-op ad with Bloomingdale’s in The New York Times, and ads in Vogue Accessory magazine, British Vogue and Another Magazine, a British publication.

“London continues to be a very strong market, and a Cavallini showroom is scheduled to open in London....We plan to be a dominant player on the fashion scene, and fashion events are being planned for London’s February Fashion Week as well as an event in New York during fashion week. The brand’s packaging will get a compelling makeover for fall 2012,” said Cavallini.

Valerie A. Mackie, marketing director for legwear at Invista Inc., sized up sheer hosiery trends this way: “Thanks to the royals, celebrities and fashion trends in the global marketplace, sheers are my number-one pick in two areas: skin tones and fashion colorations including sheer black.”

Mackie added that Invista will be launching a run-resistant microfusion fiber for sheer hosiery in the U.S. for spring 2012. The new technology is currently being tested at retail in Europe and Canada.

Regarding top items for spring, Cathleen Moxham, lead designer and merchandiser for legwear at Hanesbrands Inc., said sheer tights will be a key classification.

“The interest in textures and pattern will certainly continue this spring. We call it seasonless dressing — a great, seasonless weight [of sheer hosiery] that transitions a woman’s wardrobe perfectly like Silk Reflections Sheer Control-Top Tights....Key colors will be neutral tones like granite and a range of browns, dove gray, taupe and sky blue. I believe the sheer leg is a redefined classic that can be an essential necessity,” said Moxham.

Hanes Hosiery launched Silk Reflections Ultra Sheer this year, which incorporates a run-resistant technology while providing a sleek, bare look.

Mimi Merkin, director of legwear design at Hue Legwear, predicted color will be a “big story” for spring.

“This is really a color moment,” said Merkin. “Color keeps trending strongly….For spring we’ll be doing saturated, very intense brights and neons, as well as more cosmetic shades, very dusty, pretty pales that have become so important in fashion and footwear,” said Merkin.

Regarding fashion socks, Mikael Soderlindh, co-founder of Stockholm-based Happy Socks, said ankle socks in fashion colors and prints will be a key classification for spring.

“A lot of women have been wearing cotton ankle socks in fashion colors and patterns with high heels, boots and even sandals this year. We sell to 50 countries, and I’ve seen this trend globally. For spring 2012, we will be featuring nylon ankle socks in bolder colors,” said Soderlindh.

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