NEW YORK -- As they strive to maintain last season's strong momentum, knitwear manufacturers will offer updated silhouettes and lots of textures for fall.
Among the biggest fall trends are:
Rayon, cotton and acrylic combinations of chenille.
Head-to-toe knitwear dressing for daytime or evening.
Crop sweaters and other takes on novelty silhouettes.
Layering relaxed and deconstructed separates.
Some makers are quite emphatic in their forecasts. Take Adrienne Vittadini, one of the most prominent knitwear designers. "Fall is going to be all about texture, texture, texture," said Vittadini, who is chairman and chief executive officer of the company carrying her name. "It's not the season to be traditional. In order to entice customers to buy, fashion has to be a novelty. Otherwise, there would be no reason for people to shop. We already have more clothes than we need."
While traditionally known as a knit resource, Vittadini is putting even more emphasis on knits this season. Its Adrienne Vittadini Sport line will be 90 percent knits for fall, compared with 80 percent last year. The Adrienne Vittadini Collection will again be 80 percent knits. Mohair, heather wool, velvet and bouclÄ wool are the primary yarns for the designer's fall lines. The silhouettes will be short and clean.
Robert Bock, president of 525 Made in America, is expecting sales of the women's knitwear division this year to increase by at least $5 million -- a 25 percent increase over a year earlier, when sales came to more than $20 million.
"There will be all kinds of yarns, tweeds, heathers, necklines. I hope the stores are prepared for novelty," he said.
Nearly 35 percent of the 525 fall line is made of rayon chenille or acrylic chenille, and Bock expects crop tops, smoking jackets and turtlenecks with crocheted trims to be big sellers. Half of the company's new 12-piece scarf collection is made of chenille blends.
"Without a doubt, this fall will be the biggest season for chenille," said Bock, whose company has been doing chenille for four years.
Rugged-looking cotton and wool blend sweaters should be another hot item this fall, Bock said, adding, "I think it will appeal to a lot of people since it has the warmth of wool and the softness of cotton."He's also expecting substantial growth this year in two other categories -- men's knitwear and knitted throws and blankets. Bock said the men's business should double from last year's sales of $1.8 million, and blankets should triple from last year's sales of $1.5 million.
Max & Diane, a division of Clubhouse Marketing, devotes 65 percent of its line to knitwear.
Last year Max & Diane generated more than $17 million in knitwear business and this year a 20 percent increase is expected, according to Ronni Cohen, vice president of design. Additionally, in August, Clubhouse Marketing launched Jeste, a large-size knit division that should generate more than $10 million in sales, Cohen said.
Textured knits and layering pieces are expected to be strong, she said. With wholesale prices ranging from $17.50 to $44.75, the line appeals to a broad range of people, Cohen said. Max & Diane expects to sell 1.8 million units in its knits division, she added.
This fall August Silk Knits by Catharine Lover will offer a collection that focuses on additional novelties, while still maintaining its basics, according to Walter Singer, chairman and chief executive officer of Pacific & Clothing, which manufactures the knitwear line. He said the trend will be toward soft, luxurious yarns.
Singer said he expects head-to-toe knit dressing to take off this fall, since layering is so popular. With separates available in 37 colors, Singer said the company should sell at least 3 million units -- twice as many as last year.
Kenar is also prepared for a big season in knits. The contemporary sportswear company's 45-piece fall knit collection is more than twice as large as it was last year. Diane Honeywell, the company's production coordinator and merchandiser, said rayon chenille crop sweaters, silk and cotton oversize tunics and tailored wool separates in heathered yarn are expected to be big. The silk and cotton knits wholesale between $29 and $39, rayon chenille pieces range from $39 to $59 and heathered yarns separates range between $59 and $79.
Fall should be a big season for cashmere since yarn prices dropped in China by 20 to 25 percent, said Herb Cohen, vice president of sales at Belford Knitwear. Wholesale prices for Belford's cashmere pieces will start at $85, which is $28 lower than last year. Some fall orders are 50 percent higher than they were last year, Cohen said.Having increased sales for the past 10 years, Cohen expects to see a 25 percent jump from last year.
In addition to cashmere, Cohen said he expects cotton knits and silks to be other big sellers.
"There's a real newness to knits this fall. There are not only the basics, but great fashion as well," he said, citing such silhouettes as one-button flyaway jackets, capes and wide-leg trousers. He looks for such treatments as pebble stitching, full-fashioned handlinked cables and handcrocheted necklines to be popular.
Aiming to broaden their business, some companies are launching new lines for fall. Roberta Pinto, a designer who has been specializing in classic knits, said she will introduce a line of simple and relaxed knits called the Saturday Clothes Collection that she hopes will appeal to women in their 20s and 30s.
Pinto expects this fall's business to reach $750,000, which is a 25 percent increase compared with last fall's results. Fall accounts for more than half the company's annual business. Among the classics in the 100-piece line are chenille shirt jackets, velveen (rayon and wool blend) blazers and marble merino wool suits with rayon stripes.
This fall, Assets London, which is based in England, is expecting its new line of Ecoknits to help increase U.S. sales by 20 percent. Herb Chou, a divisional manager, said the Ecoknits were well received in Europe last winter. Made of recycled cotton, polyester and nylon, the Ecoknits are available in casual, comfortable silhouettes. Wholesale prices range from $65 to $120.
"Everyone seems to have a knitwear line these days," Chou said. "Sweaters mix and match with trousers, blouses and practically everything else. It's going to be a really hot season." Episode USA has introduced Jeselle, a better-price knitwear-based collection, which will be in stores by July. Divided into four categories -- Far & Away, Silk Road, Saint Ursula's and Country Isle -- the 120-piece collection was designed for career women as well as weekend travelers. Some of the collection consists of chenilles, velours, tweed bouclÄs, and merino wools. According to Richard Catalano, president and chief executive officer of Episode USA, projected wholesale volume for Jeselle should be between $4 million and $5 million. The line is designed to be career knitwear that can be dressed up or down, he said. "We're design driven, but not design dictated. We wanted to make sure each of our pieces can work with others or on its own," he said.Les Copains will show a new collection of cashmere sweaters it calls "featherweight," lighter than its traditional offerings. Made in Bologna, Italy, the line includes open-front vests, fisherman sweaters, three-button henleys and mesh jersey raglan sweaters.
In addition to cashmere, the company offers knitwear made of wool, linen, cotton and silk. Chenille looks will be getting a play. The 120-piece collection wholesales from $70 to $300.
B.P. Studio USA will introduce its new line of knits, B. & Sons, which will be in some specialty stores and better department stores this summer. British designers Karen and Stuart McLeod use primarily cashmere, mohair and viscose chenille for their collection. Wholesale prices will range from $40 to $180. The top sellers for fall should include a cropped mohair sweater with a rolled neck, an oversize A-line cashmere vest and a short dress with a square neckline in viscose chenille, according to Paola Johnston, vice president of B.P. Studio USA.
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