From Hanes and No Nonsense to Gold Toe and Givenchy, most of the brands on the legwear top 10 list have in recent months reevaluated their strategies, freshened up their assortments, and added line extensions to cater to today’s changing fashion needs.

Many firms have supported these changes with aggressive marketing efforts to ensure that much-coveted place at the forefront of the consumer’s mind.

Judging by this year’s top 10 ranking, this switch in gears seems to be working. In legwear, the top two brands — Hanes and L’eggs — also weigh in at number one and two, respectively, on the overall WWD100.

This in itself is quite a feat in today’s tough market conditions. Legwear, particularly sheer hosiery, continues to be one of the most challenging categories at retail, and the future doesn’t look any rosier.

In 2002, sales of hosiery declined 33 percent, according to the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. The number of sheer hosiery units sold fell to 398 million, while total hosiery unit sales for women fell 15.4 percent to 1.22 billion.

Where sheer hosiery was once a staple in a woman’s wardrobe, it is now the victim of the casualized workplace, where strappy-toed sandals and other bare-legged looks are increasingly deemed appropriate.

Retailers, meanwhile, are reacting to the slump in sheers sales by cutting back on legwear real estate, moving the category off the main floor to make room for more profitable categories like cosmetics and other accessories, or eliminating departments altogether.

Hanes, a Sara Lee Corp.-owned brand, continues to be the market leader in the legwear segment, and is a favorite resource in department and specialty stores. But even so, Hanes, too, is feeling the pinch.

In its third quarter, Sara Lee reported a 13 percent drop in sheer hosiery units and a 10 percent drop in legwear sales for its brands, which include Hanes, L’eggs and the licensed Donna Karan hosiery lines.

To counter any loss in sheers sales, Hanes has aggressively ventured into the enhancewear category. Last fall, for example, Hanes launched Hanes Body Enhancers No Hose, figuring-enhancing pieces which come in panty, capri and mid-thigh lengths suitable for summer.The second and third top brands are L’eggs and No Nonsense, respectively. Both are distributed through the well-trafficked food, drug and mass channels of retail, including Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target. If anything, this is a testimony to the fact that women continue to buy the bulk of their hosiery there, lured by the stores’ low prices and open-all-hours convenience.

At number five is Nine West, which is manufactured in a license by Royce Hosiery Mills and has become known in the marketplace for its extensive use of patterns.

Nine West hosiery is largely distributed in department stores as well as the Jones Apparel Group division’s own 217 retail and 131 outlet stores. The line also benefits from its cohesive brand image. The legwear is presented in ads and on main floor visuals in relation to accessories and apparel trends. Come fall, Nine West is hoping to gain some market share by growing its knee and boot sock classifications.

Burlington, which is owned by Golden Lady, claimed the number-six spot. The brand has been sustaining market share by moving its focus from hosiery to socks, and in particular, multiple-pair packages of athletic socks, which it launched in 2001. This year the company is hoping to snare new consumers with whimsical novelty socks featuring Halloween themes.

Gold Toe, which weighed in at number seven, has also been updating its signature collection of gold toe-capped basics with novelty socks, more technical innovations and a juicier in-store brand presentation. Gold Toe has also brought its act to Hollywood, landing product placement deals on shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Practice” and “Will & Grace,” and movies like “Anger Management” and “Daddy Day Care.”

Ranked at nine, Givenchy has also been stepping up its product assortment in recent months. Licensed to Pennaco, the legwear division of Danskin, Givenchy launched a bridal hosiery collection last spring. The 12 styles in the collection included such styles as a lace thigh-high, a sheer pantyhose with a faux-pearl heart motif at the ankle or a crystal heart ankle bracelet.

1. Hanes

2. L’eggs

3. No Nonsense4. Calvin Klein

5. Nine West

6. Burlington

7. Gold Toe

8. Donna Karan

9. Givenchy

10. Berkshire

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