BANKING ON CASUAL, FASHION

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Considering the well-documented problems with basic pantyhose, legwear makers say they are coming off a strong fall season and expect casual and fashion looks to continue to fuel business as they plan for the November market.
Several resources like Gold Toe said they will offer more knee-highs, thigh-highs and over-the-knees since those casual looks were so hot for fall--surprisingly so, some vendors say.
At the same time, some major companies see good news coming from the designer runways. Executives at such firms as Hanes Hosiery and Pennaco Hosiery said the return to glamour in apparel should boost sales for sheers and fishnets. Whether their hot styles are casual or sophisticated, several manufacturers say they are planning double-digit percentage increases for the upcoming season.
"Buyers are more optimistic about the business than ever before," said Gary Wolkowitz, president of Hot Sox. "Every buyer I've spoken to is running double-digit increases over last year."
Tights and trouser socks are expected to be main contributors to the gain of 15 percent expected in spring business at Anne Klein hosiery, according to Alice Kaiser, director of marketing for Pennaco Hosiery, a division of Danskin Inc., which holds the Anne Klein hosiery license. With wholesale prices starting at $2.76, trouser sock sales have been "phenomenal," she said. Textured socks and lace looks should be strong for fall.
Having acquired the Christian Dior hosiery license in May, Pennaco expects a 10 percent increase in spring orders compared to fall, Kaiser said. With wholesale prices ranging from $2.93 for a basic daytime ultra sheer to $3.60 for an evening sheer with satin sheen, the collection offers dressy styles at what the company considers a good value, she said. "With the emphasis on glamour, the line should really take off," Kaiser said.
A 10 percent gain is also expected for Givenchy, which is manufactured by Pennaco, she said. During market week, the brand's first hip and tummy "controleur" will be introduced as part of its body smoothers category. The new item wholesales for $4.47 and is expected to become a bestseller, Kaiser said.
Round the Clock Basics should post a 5 percent increase in spring bookings, with three-pair multi-packs driving sales, she said. Wholesale prices start for three-packs at $5.75, according to Kaiser.
Spring business for Danskin brand legwear should be twice as big as it was for fall, the line's first season, Kaiser said. Introduced during August market, Danskin's 10-piece collection offers basic opaques as well as textured, patterned, ribbed and lace tights, she said.
This week Hanes Hosiery, a division of the Sara Lee Corp., which holds the license for DKNY and Donna Karan hosiery, will preview for early market arrivals the DKNY sport collection and Donna Karan socks. The average wholesale price for a pair of socks from the nine-piece athletic collection is $3.50. Peds, crew socks and slouch socks will be offered. Each item will carry the DKNY logo. The sport line should increase DKNY's annual hosiery volume by 5 percent, according to Debbie Hobbs, vice president of merchandising.
The Donna Karan socks collection consists of three styles of silk and Lycra spandex socks. Available in six colors, the items will wholesale for $10.
The company has tripled its offerings in DKNY socks and expects sales to quadruple compared to last spring, she said. Short anklets, slouch socks and over-the-knee socks in gingham, vintage patterns and ethnic-inspired prints should be important for spring, she said.
Hanes Hosiery expects November market to generate double-digit gains compared to fall orders for its special size pantyhose, Silk Reflections Petites, Silk Reflections Plus and Smooth Illusions Plus. Hanes is also extending its Expert Care hosiery care products to include Expert Care foot rejuvenating cream and leg invigorator cream. Four ounce bottles of each product wholesale for $4.50.
A 25 percent increase in spring orders is projected for Ralph Lauren hosiery and the Ralph by Ralph Lauren legwear line, according to Hot Sox's Wolkowitz, whose company holds the license. Introduced for fall, the Ralph line's spring volume should exceed $1 million, quadrupling fall business, according to Jill Bleifer, sales manager for Polo Ralph Lauren Hosiery at Hot Sox.
Ralph Lauren Sport, a high performance athletic sock collection, as well as the Ralph line should boost business substantially since both were introduced in the past four months, he said. The fact that more lengths--from anklets to thigh-highs--are being offered in designers' lines this spring should also enhance business, Wolkowitz said.
Hot Sox's own 120-piece spring collection is 15 percent larger than last spring and the company has lowered its opening wholesale price point from $3.50 to $2.50, he said. With sharper-priced items, the company is planning for at least a 20 percent increase for spring, Wolkowitz said.
"Consumers are traditionally more price-sensitive in the spring. It's also a shorter selling season," he said. "Hopefully, adding more moderate price points will stimulate business in May, June and early July."
Gold Toe, a division of Great American Knitting Mills Inc., has doubled its thigh-high and over-the-knee offerings for spring since they have been such top performers this fall, according to a company spokeswoman. Most styles are available in 30 colors for fall, which is nearly twice as many options as last fall, she said. Anklets, lace tights and fishnets will be other important items for spring, she said. "Texture and fashion are really driving the fashion business," she added.
Kenneth Cole hosiery, which was introduced during March market, is planning to double its business for spring against fall, according to Irenka Jakubiak, director of fashion and licensing. Licensed to DML Marketing Group, this week Kenneth Cole will introduce Celebration, a new line of bridal and special occasion thigh-highs and tights. The full collection offers a variety of items in pastels and fashion brights but white will be the most important color for spring, she said.

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