By  on January 29, 2007

The legwear industry has a heartbeat again.

Given up for almost dead just a few seasons ago, when the trend was for women to go bare-legged even in the freezing cold, the industry is enjoying a major revival, thanks to the popularity of leggings and tights.

Only last week, Karl Lagerfeld's couture show for Chanel was dominated by black tights under colorful dresses. And further evidence of the renaissance came at the Sundance Film Festival in snowy Park City, Utah, where young actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Zooey Deschanel, Christina Ricci and Mandy Moore ditched the traditional uniform of jeans and Ugg boots in favor of tights, chic dresses and high heels.

So as the spring retail season hits its stride, legwear brands have a new bounce in their step.

Insiders said fall 2007 runway looks are likely to be blanketed with legwear, as hosiery manufacturers across the board are partnering with more designers than ever for next month's New York shows. Hue is working with 13 designers, up from eight the previous year.

Last fall, the segment struck a gold mine with the comeback of tights and footless styles. The NPD Group reported that sales of tights shot up 26.9 percent, to $104.4 million, from January through November 2006, reversing a double-digit decline in 2005. Even sheer hosiery enjoyed an uptick of 5.2 percent, to $916.4 million. Sock volume was basically flat at $1.37 billion.

"Dresses had a positive affect on legwear," said Liz Hospodar, Bloomingdale's divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery. "In the fall, we definitely saw growth in tights and footless and sheers. There also was a surge in shaping items and we predict that this will continue into the spring season."

Elizabeth Kanfer, fashion market director at Saks Fifth Avenue, said legwear sales there were "extremely strong. The covered leg was a runway trend, and we represented this with leggings and opaque tights. We were able to service the contemporary customer with leggings, as well as the modern and classic customer with opaque tights. We anticipate this trend going forward on runways for fall. If it is a trend, we will buy accordingly."

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