NEW YORK -- Legwear manufacturers are getting the message.
For the past year, they've been hearing that customers need more casual legwear. Both the heavier footwear and the relaxed looks in apparel are demanding it, and as they look to the fall market next week, legwear vendors say they are ready with significantly broadened assortments, aimed to match the growing options in clothes.
The fall menu emphasizes a variety of silhouettes; thigh-highs, over-the-knee socks, legwarmers, boot socks and anklets are some of the key looks. Makers also expect to tempt consumers with touch and texture, two elements that are important in sheers as well as casual styles.
With this ammunition, vendors are feeling confident about a season that could well wake up hosiery departments after some generally quiet periods. They forecast gains over last year ranging up to 30 percent.
Fashion trends in apparel, the executives add, also favor the legwear business, as many designers take the short skirt to new heights.
"What links all of our styles this season is legwear that feels good and is warm and soft," said Susan Danish, vice president and general manager for the department and specialty store divisions of Kayser-Roth. "We're using heavier texture than we have in the past."
The company holds the license for Calvin Klein Hosiery.
In the more casual CK Tights group, linked to the designer's bridge line, there are new patterns, such as argyle and striped styles coordinating with CK fall sweaters. Pastel colors, such as a pale blue the company calls cloud, lemon and dust -- a gray hue -- add a new dimension to the designer's traditionally earth-toned palette.
Calvin Klein Collection, the more upscale sheer line, has been "totally revamped," said Danish, with new packaging and constructions.
A new, wider waistband, a heavier denier control top and lacy high-rise sheers are just a few of the new changes. With the improvements, prices are higher, said Danish. A daytime sheer, for example, that used to wholesale for $43.50 a dozen, is now $51 a dozen.
Danish projects increases of about 30 percent in the Calvin Klein lines because of new Collection products as well as a greater distribution of CK, now in its second fall season."Hosiery is getting to be much more like ready-to-wear in terms of the options that are now available to women," said Debbie Hobbs, vice president of merchandising for Hanes Hosiery, who is also responsible for handling the Donna Karan licensed lines. "There's been a fundamental lifestyle change going on. Different modes of dressing are being accepted in the workplace. Women can wear what they want."
The licensed DKNY line, part of the Donna Karan business, is making strong statements in over-the-knee socks and legwarmers as well as in tights and trouser socks, the line's usual mainstays.
Key looks include athletic stripes, cut-and-sewn tights with a reflective finish, heavy sweater-inspired socks and legwarmers and subtle lace-patterned tights and thigh-highs. Textures include ribs, cables, matte-and-shine stripes and a basketweave look.
In color, Hobbs noted, "Olympic brights" -- or primary shades -- are contrasted against neutral backgrounds for a sporty look in socks, thigh-highs and legwarmers.
In the Hanes Soft Touch collection, an opaque microfiber nylon thigh-high with a sleek band, wholesaling for $41.64 a dozen, is a new number. Hanes Legwear is showing a variety of men's wear-inspired socks and tights, and the newest Silk Reflections styles include a lace mesh tight and a high-luster tight.
In the licensed Liz Claiborne collection at Hanes, styles dyed to match the label's sportswear include a sheer houndstooth control top tight for $48 a dozen, as well as a velour tweed style, also at $48.
At American Essentials, which holds the license for Calvin Klein socks and also produces its own label, president Jordan Lipson anticipates significant increases, noting that his business doubled last year with the addition of the CK casual line of socks.
In both American Essentials and Calvin Klein, he said, "soft, great-feeling yarns and a lot of wool" are key directions. Legwarmers and thigh-highs are important silhouettes, as well as boot socks.
"With the return of short skirts and the emphasis on the leg, fall 1994 should be an even better season than last year," said Lipson. "We're showing a variety of silhouettes in novelty, sweatery styles. There is a lot of color this fall too, from heathers to ruby and plum."The American Essentials brand, he said, is spotlighting a "feminized men's wear approach," in patterns ranging from florals to herringbone prints.
In the Calvin Klein group, looks are also coordinated with the CK line of clothing, with argyle motifs and retro, schoolgirl-inspired knee-highs. A very soft angora knee-high in pale pastel colors is a hot new addition to the mix for fall.
Hot Sox is charting a strong movement toward new silhouettes for fall.
"We're being very bullish in our expectations for the season," said president Gary Wolkowitz. "With trends moving away from sheers and opaques, there is a much more varied approach to legwear in terms of silhouette, color and fiber."
He predicts a 20 percent increase for fall business over last year.
One key group called Shepherd's Star draws from a neutral palette with designs influenced by Aztec, Peruvian and pre-Colombian cultures. Another group, Thrift Shop, features patterns derived from vintage clothing, with offbeat colors in washed, distressed and tie-dyed patterns.
In the licensed Ralph Lauren collection, two new groups are being introduced: Ralph and Ralph Lauren Sport.
The Ralph group consists of 20 styles with price points comparable to the traditional Ralph Lauren line.
"It's a line that works back to Ralph Lauren's new message in clothing -- a younger, downtown look targeting a new customer," said Wolkowitz. Looks vary from legwarmers to over-the-knee socks and knee-highs and range in price from $48 a dozen for a lightweight cotton rib trouser sock to $240 a dozen for a Donegal wool tweed ribbed tight. Ralph Lauren Sport consists of sport-specific socks for women.
"The timing is right for this group because of the Polo Sport free-standing store on Madison Avenue and the general interest in the market now for sport socks," Wolkowitz noted.
At Liz Claiborne Socks, touch is a key factor in all sock categories. According to Carol Hochman, president of accessories at the women's apparel firm, "significant double-digit increases" are expected this fall, due to a broader tights distribution, improved styling and assortment.
"The real excitement for fall is with new yarns and textures," she said, "and boot socks in solids, tonal mixes, and heavy, beefy weights are set to explode."Tights in lighter deniers are a growing category for the company, explained Hochman. Keying in on the importance of fibers that feel good against the skin, Hochman said that cotton and microfiber nylon blend tights in solids and subtle patterns, wholesaling for $57 a dozen, should be popular.
At Hue, business as usual is planned for the upcoming week, despite the plan announced last week by The Leslie Fay Cos., Hue's parent company, to license the business to Kayser-Roth Corp. A hearing on approving the pact is scheduled in bankruptcy court today; Leslie Fay is operating in Chapter 11.
"Assuming we close as planned, all shipments and orders for fall will be handled by Kayser-Roth," said Barbara Khouri, senior vice president of licensing for Leslie Fay.
Hue's Natural Collection is one of its main thrusts for fall. It features basics and fashion styles, made of recycled cottons and natural dyes.
Among the highlights in the group is a relaxed knit sock with a loose silk cuff and a recycled cotton foot, wholesaling for $45 a dozen. Hue is using wool in a flat knit sock, and is also offering the latest fall silhouette in legwear for fall -- a thick, ribbed cotton boot-topper.
"The breadth of styling that once went into our tights collection is now going into socks with strong basics as well as fashion looks," said Kathy Moskal, co-president. "Natural fibers are now throughout the line, now with a little bit of fashion rather than as just a basic. Without fashion, the natural category will die."
Overall, said Moskal, "There are more elements now in legwear, such as the boot-topper we tested last year and sold out." She expects business to be strong.
"We've already got loads of appointments scheduled, since we are showing all of fall and holiday this market," she said. "It helps the buyers plan their dollars when most of the season's mix is presented at one time."
At Pennaco Hosiery, a new line called Danskin Legwear is being launched next week, with a strong marketing focus toward fashion looks in innovative and high tech fibers such as microfiber nylon, Supplex and CoolMax."We've come up with a forward, funky young line," said Barbara Guzy, senior vice president. The line includes ankle-highs, tights and thigh-highs in a variety of patterns and textured solids.
Key looks include a diamond patchwork tight with a control top and CoolMax gusset and a herringbone twill tight. Each wholesales for $54 a dozen and the patterns are also available in ankle socks.
In the company's licensed Anne Klein collection of legwear, casual styles now are 50 percent of the line, said Howard Hyde, vice president of worldwide marketing for Pennaco. Ten new styles have been added to the mix this season, bringing the total to 17. Design highlights include leaves, stitches and vine textures as well as laces, each style wholesaling for $32.76 a dozen.
The Anne Klein tights are being offered in banded packaging for the first time, in contrast to the enclosed package. This gives a more casual look and also allows the customer to feel the merchandise, said Hyde. The tights come in subtle lace and vine patterns and wholesale for $64.80 a dozen.
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