By  on July 18, 2005

MIAMI — Legwear makers predict higher sales for the retail season after a strong showing on the fall catwalks of novelty hosiery and socks — from tights in bright and pale colors to sheers with new shimmer treatments, leggings in textures and ankle and over-the-knee black socks.

"Like any visual that shows women how to wear a trend, the runway has done a lot to create interest," said Tony Taylor, creative director for Look from London, an accessories manufacturer based in Brooklyn.

Taylor projected a 30 percent increase in sales this fall. He said retailers, such as shoe stores, which didn't show much interest before have opened accounts and regulars are trying to fulfill orders earlier.

"They used to want things by back-to-school time, but that's too late this year," he said.

Taylor, who designed hosiery featuring a hand-painted tribal tattoo print and brown sweater weave for Anna Sui's fall show, said color is important. Aside from magenta, cobalt and teal, he is shipping more brown and believes it has a good chance of outselling black.

For texture, Taylor said cableknit and ribbed looks would capture a wide audience.

Jennifer Puckett, sales and marketing director for Wolford-America, based in New York, sees a return to the high numbers the brand recorded in 2003. Sales are already ahead of last year and should tally a 35 percent increase, she said.

Wolford supplied tights for the fall Zac Posen runway show, which Posen embellished with Swarovski crystals in ornate patterns. Wolford also designed raspberry sheers for Tracy Reese and ribbed cotton tights in pepper, black and ecru for Alice Roi.

The Wolford customer responds to runway fashion, Puckett said.

"All those fall suits just cried for legwear, and you can't do the luxurious Russian trend with bare legs," she added.

Top-selling items for Wolford this season include crochet in vertical stripes, multicolored graphic prints and brown or gray opaques from the Velvet Deluxe collection.

"No color beats black yet, but women are buying the brights we usually just put in the window," she said.

American Essentials, a New York-based legwear company that makes Calvin Klein legwear, is also delivering its premier shipment of hosiery and socks for Michael Michael Kors this fall to department stores including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Macy's East and Marshall Field's."The luxe-ski-house look is another important fall story," said Michele Slade, vice president of sales and marketing.

Bestsellers include Michael Michael Kors animal, paisley or blown-up houndstooth prints in red, camel or chocolate, in addition to basic black. Cable and ribbed patterns also did well.

"Fashion bookings are up double digits this year," Slade said. "Basics always sell, but there's more balance now."

Wayne Lederman, president of Leg Resource, the New York-based licensee for Anne Klein and Via Spiga legwear, among other brands, said he has opened 50 new accounts this year, an estimated 10 percent gain.

"As long as skirts are important, legwear will be," he said.

Lederman said while sheer and nude pantyhose business is down, fashion legwear is generating excitement. Hosiery in colorful opaques and metallic yarns and trousers socks with bohemian or traditional paisley prints, and men's wear patterns such as chevrons, tiny dots or pinstripes are booking strongly. Also doing well are socks that update novelty with solid bodies and tops that are adorned with lace, buttons, embroidery or fur.

"There's even a style with a little functional belt that tightens or loosens socks at the top," he said.

Crocheted tights have replaced fishnets for texture, Lederman said.

Nadine Hall, general manager and vice president of hosiery for Sara Lee Branded Apparel, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based licensee for Donna Karan and DKNY, said fall's push toward femininity and formality improves hosiery's level of usage.

For Donna Karan's runway show, the company moved away from the traditional shiny metallics for evening and created sheer opaque blends with a bit of glimmer in a grayish taupe hue that gives legs a healthy, radiant glow.

"We call it bronzing," Hall said. "The look is lovely on the runway because it's not flat, but wearable for the mainstream, too."

Sales have surpassed projections, though Hall said the runways are just a trend's first wave. Only in late September or early October will vendors see definite results. However, retailers have been more apt to get on board.

"It's rare for retailers to book without seeing samples like they did this year," she said.Molly Mott, vice president of sales for Kaiser-Roth, based in Greensboro, N.C., which manufactures Hue legwear, said the business is doing well with color. The brand's fall collection offers opaque tights in 20 colors. Black remains number one, with camel and winter white growing in popularity.

"Only 40 percent of [the company's] opaque business is black," said Mott, who attributed color sales to magazines. "They teach people how to wear color, like a brown suit with orange opaques."

Sales of sweater knits in heavier yarns also have grown over the last few seasons, Mott said.

"We see small increases in basics and will continue to freshen our assortment there, but fashion looks are creating 20 percent sales increases this year," she said.

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