NEW YORK — In an ongoing effort to pump up legwear sales, sock vendors are saying farewell to hard-edged graphics and men’s wear looks and hello to whimsical prints and novelty styles for resort and early spring.Traditionally, the August market gives buyers the opportunity to reorder top sellers for early fall and get a glimpse of spring deliveries. For the first taste of spring, many are looking to liven up the sales floors with a slew of floral and prints, candy colors and novelty takes on the athletic sock."Novelty is what people want," said Robert Sussman, president at ETC Hosiery. "Basics always sell, but it is novelty that draws people in."Among ETC’s key items on tap are socks with patterns in two and three colors, as well as lightweight fabrics and slipper socks. Trouser socks are getting an injection of fashion with the addition of sheer textures. In addition to the ETC brand, the company also makes products under the label Me, It’s Really You, which bowed in 2000.Sussman said many stores are buying closer to season, continuing the trend of recent years. "Many people are waiting to see what happens with their business, so they are buying later than ever," he said.Some firms expressed optimism about the coming market, in part due to recent retail trends."I expect the open-to-buy to be higher than last year because stores have had good early fall sell-throughs despite the [hot] temperatures," said Susan Reese, vice president of sales at Soxland. "We expect definite double-digit increases on last year because it’s been a good year. Socks are inexpensive, and our product makes people smile. That’s a lot of value for the money."At Soxland, the spring showroom will be transformed from its "ghetto-graffiti" installation of the past two markets to "Gay Paris," said Reese."We painted the background in a blue wash that looks like the sky, and the showroom feels like you are looking through the flower shop into the shelves, holding the different floral and spring designs," she said. "There’s even a bottle of wine and rosettes."For spring, Soxland is moving away from edgier graffiti designs and is focusing on florals. The sherbet color range includes lilac, pink and yellow."A lot of inspiration came from retro fabrics this year," said Reese. "There are no bold graphics. Everything is easier on the eyes, with delicate, smaller roses, lollipops, ice cream sundaes and popsicles."Soxland is launching a "super-short shorty," said Reese. This is shorter than the traditional ‘sporty shorty’ and barely covers the heel. The super shorty wholesales for $1.25, while the entire assortment wholesales for $1.25 to $3.75.At Gold Toe, meanwhile, there are plenty of colors on tap for the coming season, said Trish McHale, director of marketing."We will have lots of novelty items, including conversationals, as well as lots and lots of color," she noted. "There are blues and oranges, and teals and pinks, and plenty of florals."Sport socks are another key area for the firm. A new line of athletic socks was introduced earlier this year, and for early spring, this area will also get some fashion twists, including new colors, stripes and patterns.McHale noted that fall and holiday bookings are ahead of last year, although she declined to give exact figures.Also sprucing up its active assortment for early spring is Legale Legwear, which is launching "Active Ingredients," a new collection of active-inspired socks."We are building on our strength in pattern business to do more active socks with fun and pattern on it," said Barbara Russillo, president atLegale Legwear.The line consists of over 30 styles with stripes, dots, florals, dragonflies and cherries. It will be sold at retail within the three-for-$12 multiple pricing strategy.Legale is also offering several sock lengths, from crew lengths and fashion tube socks to quarter highs and foot liners, and textures such as jacquard, ribs, piqués and lace, "which is the extensions of the bohemian/hippie-chic trend," she said. Key colors are white, black, cappuccino, pale pink, periwinkle and turquoise. Legale’s wholesale prices range from $1.68 to $3."Because the customer has been seeing fall colors and products since June, we frontload spring and ship patterns and colors in November and December," Russillo said.Susan Spindell, women’s national sales manager at American Essentials, noted: "Because of the short spring season, you need to capture business early. We are going to be mindful of how we plan our deliveries when it comes to fashion items. You have to strike while the iron is hot."This market, the firm will build on its recently launched Lulu Guinness and Lucky Brand Dungarees lines."With our new brands, it’s about fun and brightness and a reason for being happy," said Spindell.For Lucky, she added, the company is giving existing concepts such as a solid ped a twist with a space-dye heel and toe, surfer girl patterns, hearts in nontraditional colors such as red and blue combinations, and a lip motif knit into the sock at the back of heel.In its Lulu Guinness line, American Essentials is going after a gift-giving time period during the late winter-early spring period, such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, with socks featuring motifs like hearts.The company is also continuing to maximize on pricing strategies for its CK Calvin Klein sock line, offering multi-packs and a two-for-$10 strategy, including shorty two-packs with a CK logo in colors such as white, black and a denim-navy combination."We intend to corner the market for two-packs in casual, dress and athletic socks," she said. "I think many buyers will be looking for day-in, day-out, volume-driving looks and concepts, such as price initiatives. Stores want a way to build a story by taking four or five styles and fixturing them and grouping them together."Florals are also on tap at Ozone Design Inc."We are doing multicolored or monochromatic little florals, such as roses, petunias, leaves and lots of stripes," said Laurie Mallet, president and chief executive officer of Ozone Design. "And we are continuing with lace prints because there was a strong lace trend in the garment industry."Ozone will also continue to offer ballerina socks with ties and laces. Wholesale prices range from $5 to $11.At Biella, the luxury legwear maker, exotic yarns are on tap for the coming season. The company is offering fabrics such as cashmere and chenille, as well as stretch wool, angora and lightweight viscose, said Caron Schillinger, marketing director. Most of the yarns come from overseas. Updated trouser socks are also on the agenda.Biella is also introducing a more moderate-priced line called Filari, which is targeted to department store chains. The line will include more rayon and will carry retail prices of $8 to $12. Biella’s retail prices are $8 to $38 and target specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus."There are so many fibers beyond cotton, and many people want to try exotic yarns and more sophisticated fabrics," said Schillinger. "There are a lot of people out there who want their feet to feel good."

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