LONDON--British legwear and bodywear manufacturers are hoping glamour will bring them a much-needed lift. Companies that showed during London Hosiery Week early this month focused on luxurious hands, textures and styles in legwear and figure-hugging bodywear in an attempt to capitalize on the return to glamour in ready-to-wear. Manufacturers hope the fashion trends will lure customers from the black and navy opaque styles that have dominated winter sales for several years. Caroline Wright, marketing manager of the U.K.'s largest hosiery company, Pretty Polly, a Sara Lee subsidiary, said these styles have hurt the market because the sameness means women have been buying less legwear. The average number of pairs bought fell to 15 last year from 17.1 in 1993. The U.K. market has been slack for the last few years, with volume sales in 1994 dropping 9 percent to just over 477 million units sold, with total value at about $900 million (566.9 million pounds) at current exchange, a drop of 6 percent, according to figures supplied by The TMS Partnership, a research company. The average price per pair is only $1.79 (1.13 pounds) "because women still tend to buy hosiery basics in multi-packs in supermarkets or from market stalls," said Danny Hughes, marketing manager for Aristoc, a hosiery subsidiary of Courtaulds Textiles PLC. This could signal a major turnaround for the U.K. industry, which has suffered generally because of the recession, price cuts and promotions where legwear was actually given away. In a further move to improve their quality, most manufacturers showed collections with DuPont's Lycra 3D program--which features Lycra spandex in every course and was introduced last year. The improved outlook was reflected among retailers. "The atmosphere was a lot more positive and stronger than for spring-summer 1995," said Robin Shacklady, hosiery buyer for Selfridges, who cited new colors, patterns and the widespread use of Lycra 3D as key factors for the optimistic outlook. "The main colors for fall-winter will be pastels and darker berry colors. There are a lot of glitter and metallic luster effects, too, which did well last year and I think will be even stronger this year," Shacklady said. He also predicted the glamour look will encourage women to wear more legwear, but added retailers still need to educate consumers on the advantages of better legwear. "We have to try and persuade the British woman who spends 215 pounds [$341] on a suit to consider spending about 5 or 6 pounds [about $8 or $9.50] on legwear to complement the outfit instead of 2.99 pounds [$4.75]," he said. Nicole Watson, hosiery buyer at Bentalls, which has seven department stores in southeastern England, concurred. "The mood was very optimistic at London Hosiery Week, much more so than this time last year," said Watson. "Hosiery sales are a lot stronger this year. I think this is because there are more colors, patterns, knitting methods and yarns--especially DuPont's Lycra 3D, which the consumer is learning about through advertising." Watson also cited pastels and dark berry colors as the strong fall-winter colors--colors that she noted "look good on legs." In design trends, patterns were knit in as well as printed to create trompe l'oeil effects, such as Wolford's Cyber, which resembled stockings and garter belts or Couture Marketing Ltd.'s Blue Chip Check tight giving the effect of thigh highs worn over opaques. In line with the push to more color, Hue showed its signature bright colors and textured, glamorous legwear in metallic snakeskin or pinstripe patterns. The U.S. firm, which currently has European distribution in the U.K. and France, has made plans to expand into Spain for fall, noted Glynis Holliday, Hue's European distributor. As part of the attempt to counteract the difficult U.K. market conditions in legwear, companies are also placing increased emphasis on such areas as bodywear and plus-size legwear. Ivor Forster, international sales director of Wolford, mentioned thatthe company's bodywear range currently accounts for 10 percent of sales, which it wants to increase to 25 percent. Wolford has invested $3 million (30 million Austrian schillings) to increase production capacity of bodywear at its headquarters in Bregenz, Austria. The project, expected to be completed in June, entails converting an existing Wolford warehouse for production purposes and recruiting an extra 100 employees. Pretty Polly used Hosiery Week to launch the Just My Size plus-size line, a line featured in the U.S. by its sister company, Hanes Hosiery. The range of legwear, which is available in fashionable colors, fits hips size up to 54 to 60 inches. Hue launched figure-hugging velvet T-shirts and leggings and expanded its maternity line. "We don't want to lose a loyal customer for nine months," Holliday said.
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