By  on November 16, 2005

NEW YORK — When it comes to knitwear these days, it's anything but simple.

Across the markets — from moderate to contemporary — there is one common theme in knitwear: fashion pieces to be paired with denim. As consumers buy more and more jeans, knitwear vendors said, they look for tops that have an element of the unusual. So manufacturers are providing an array to choose from.

"Heavy beading is over. For spring, knitwear is much more feminine, with crochet being a very big trend," said Nicole Fischelis, fashion director for Macy's East. "There are full crochet cardigans or elements of it with crochet trim or fine and feminine pointelle knits. Spring is very delicate and feminine."

Fischelis said Macy's will also carry cotton cable-knit sweaters in a range of colors, but emphasized the importance of white for the season. She said the nautical trend will be present, and important vendors are DKNY, Anna Sui, City Unltd., Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Joseph A and, of course, I.N.C., Federated's private label line. She said there will be plenty of T-shirts: romantic with ribbon detail or other feminine details, and urban with tattoo prints and gold foil accents.

"The knit business continues to be very important, but there is something to say about the importance of feminine blouses for spring, which could take some of the knit business," she said.

When it comes to novelty knits, makers like Only Nine are delivering. The three-year-old firm has worked hard recently to bring European trends to the American market. For spring, it's offering Missoni- and Pucci-inspired print tops, Victorian-inspired lace knits and kimono tops with wooden beading accents.

"This customer feels young and she wants to look like her daughter, only with that misses' fit, not so contemporary," said Jamie Gorman, president of Only Nine. "Also, everything has to go back to jeans. It's so important."

Jamie Delaney, vice president of design at Ralsey, said the spring runway shows greatly inspired the line.

"There was a very strong feminine note in the spring shows, and I think that crochet lends to that trend," she said. "As an industry, we've hit a couple of good trends in recent seasons, such as the poncho and the knit blazer, so there's a great deal of detail going into the knitwear today."Elan Eliau, founder and chief executive officer at Joseph A, said both the fashion items — such as the crocheted cardigans, embroidered sleeveless tops and Native American-inspired sweaters — as well as the basics continue to book well.

"Our business is broken into three areas: fashion basics, classic basics and novelty," he said. "While the novelty items continue to do very well, we are also doing just as well with the basics, which is sort of a surprise to all of us. Usually, we do exceptionally well with one or the other."

Mark Eisen, designer of Karoo, a better contemporary knit line sold in specialty stores like Intermix, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, said fashion does not mean novelty.

"For me, it's not about how much I can decorate a piece, but more about the design I put into the sweaters," Eisen said. "For me, it's a clean item with a great shape that gives the woman an effortless edge."

Eisen said he is using light chiffon-quality knits and featherweight cottons and cashmere for spring. He's also playing with proportion.

"It's so much cooler to have a long sweater or T-shirt over low-rise bottoms than to see the G-string," he said, mentioning his introduction of a T-shirt collection for spring. "It's very feminine, very modern."

Mark Stevens, president of Blu Stocking, a new contemporary knit line, said crocheted items booked well for spring.

"Crochet is huge for us," said Stevens, adding cropped crocheted cardigans, cotton polos and basics were booking particularly well. "And spring is usually tough for knitwear, but we did really well."

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