By  on October 24, 2007

Luxury knitwear houses want to be known for more than their sweaters, and for spring are offering full collections brimming with dresses and other novelty pieces.

Dresses, cardigans and complete novelty pieces in bright colors and toned-down volume will complement the traditional stable of knits next season.

Malo's Orient-inspired collection features more silk and intricate beading than the luxury knitwear on which the brand has built its reputation. Malo launched a full fashion collection for spring 2007, and that part of the business continues to grow.

New York-based Tse also featured far more than knits in its spring line. "We are a knitwear house, but we are trying to be recognized as a fashion house, so we are adding more woven pieces and using new techniques," said a Tse spokeswoman. "We are doing less classical knitwear and more interesting pieces."

Many manifestations of the concept of "imprint" inspired Tse's spring collection: imprinted prints, layering and fabric and texture mixes. Dresses, which is an important category for the collection, features a piece made of double-layered, fine-gauge jacquard, with the top layer removed in portions. A tunic — another key item — is a hand-knit pointelle mesh. Many pieces also combine woven and knit fabrics, juxtaposing heavy and light textures. In addition to a white palette, Tse also offered the color stories of navy with saffron, safari tan and turquoise, poppy red, and gray and black.

Tse's spring knits wholesale from $150 to $350 and sell at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and specialty stores, in addition to Tse's own stores, including one in New York slated to open in January.

Launched in 2002, contemporary knitwear brand Kier+J, which wholesales from $40 to $120 and is sold in 150 doors including Fred Segal, added more fashion-forward pieces for spring. While its business was built with basic sweaters making up more than half of sales, the company this fall entered the designer contemporary area with the addition of dresses. Dresses and novelty pieces now make up almost 75 percent of sales.

For spring, 30 percent of Kier+J's bodies are jackets and cardigans designed to go on top of dresses, and the firm predicts such toppers could account for half of sales going forward."Women now come to us for more than sweaters," said Tom Kao, president of Kier+J. "It used to be for us the big thing were sweaters, just simple open-neck tops, but we've found customers will pay more money to buy the special pieces."

In addition to the key role of dresses and dress-complementing layering pieces — "from mini shrunken cardigans to oversize easy pieces," said Kao — color is the other big trend story.

"For spring, colors are very important," Kao said. "Our customers are buying the grassy greens, bright blues, mustard yellows and spicy reds. Going forward we will introduce even more colors."

At bridge resource Magaschoni, the fashion collection component of the firm is becoming as important as the knits for which the firm is famous. On the knit side of the business, dresses and cardigans continue to be hits. The New York-based company's showroom holds a rainbow of colors, including yellow and green.

"Colors for spring are a lot fresher — strong colors are back, like reds, corals, yellows and turquoises, but are still tempered with neutrals," said Christopher Fischer, president and chief executive officer of his knit line. "Shapes are still voluminous and looser, but also there are some cleaner, cuter shapes with volume in length but more fitted to the body."

Fischer's line, which wholesales from $55 to $159, is carried at retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's and Holt Renfrew in Canada. Cardigans and wraps over dresses are important categories for spring, and standard sweaters feature open scoop and ballerina necks, and use featherweight cashmeres, as well as some pure linens and cottons.

Angela Horton, whose history at luxury linen label Frette inspired her to create a line of cashmere blankets, is launching her first full women's knit collection for spring. The line wholesales from $300 to $8,000 and will be sold at a limited number of doors, including Calypso and Stanley Korshak.

Knit dresses, jackets and tunics play an important role in Horton's freshman, St. Barth's-inspired collection. The color palette is full of creams and whites, with feminine "starbursts of color," like green and lavender. Pieces also mix fabrics, such as gingham detailing on a cashmere dress, to create novelty.

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