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This story first appeared in the December 6, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

NEW YORK — Legwear makers anticipate another challenging year, but hope an upswing in the economy encourages consumer spending. One of their key concerns is the absence of a clear legwear trend to drive consumers into stores, such as the fishnet and bright colored opaque styles of past seasons. In addition, spring continues to be a lackluster selling season as more women embrace bare legs during that time.

WWD asked legwear executives crucial questions as they head into the new year: What will be the most important legwear fashion trend in 2005, and why? What is their outlook for the business and the single most important factor influencing or challenging their view? Here, a look at their responses.

Julia Townsend, executive vice president and general manager, Kayser-Roth Corp.

“The most important legwear trends for 2005 are color, prints and embellishment, whether overt, such as openwork and rhinestones, or sophisticated and subdued, such as shimmer hosiery. One of the most important things to acknowledge is legwear as a key accessory. Women have come to embrace legwear as an accessory to express their personal style. It is not surprising that, like shoes and handbags, color, prints and embellishment are driving legwear trends.…Legwear is eclectic right now, and women are comfortable moving from legwear pieces that offer sophisticated surface interest like shimmer and shine to feminine looks such as intricate open works to bolder graphic statements like argyles and printed hosiery.

Our outlook for 2005 is to continue double-digit growth in all Hue product segments. We expect to achieve this growth by offering a continuous flow of new, relevant and trend-right products, by creating distinctive products for every class of trade using brand vehicles such as Hue and No Nonsense. It is all about being inventive, listening to our retail partners and to consumers, and driving business through innovation and newness.”

 

Susan Reese, vice president of sales, Soxland International Inc.

“At Soxland, the key trend next year is really all about being pretty. That means embellished socks and novelty yarns like Lurex in softer colors. The shapes are going to be extreme — we will see either really short shorties or knee highs. We are doing shorties with delicate details such as a flower or dog embroidery on the front or on the back or the side. We are also doing appliqués and embroidery combined.

We have had some bright spots this year, like introducing Chinese Laundry, and we are really happy with the results. All of the imports that have flooded our market from China have been inferior in quality, and with the uncertainty about what will happen with the quotas, I think it will help our business. We don’t manufacture in China but in Taiwan. For us, it won’t only be about price, but also delivery and product. That’s the big issue. That and to get the people into the stores. We need to motivate the people with product that they more than need.”

 

John Flynn, vice president of sales, Levante USA

“Shapewear is still a very big part of the trend going forward. Also strong will be the fishnet, both in knee highs and in different variations like a maxi-net, a regular fishnet, fishnet stockings, fishnet thigh highs, and a micro-net. Legwear as a fashion statement will also continue to be very strong. If a woman likes the look of a print or way the style is constructed, there is really no price barrier.

Being a European line, we are watching the euro carefully. We have to try to maintain price points and the margins.”

 

Nadine Hall, vice president, Sara Lee Hosiery

“Texture will continue to be important in 2005. But the most important trend is legwear as a must-have accessory that completes an outfit. Whether it is sheer, toeless or opaque, some sort of legwear will be part of a woman’s wardrobe. Legwear, similar to handbags and brooches, will put the finishing touches on ready-to-wear, especially with the options available in color and texture.

There will still be a decline in sheer hosiery, but it will be softened by more formal and feminine fashions. Skirted suits will be more prominent, and they are featuring relatively short skirts. And even more relevant than the trends in fashion is the decline in the number of companies with casual dress policies. The trend in general is away from everyday casual.”

 

Susan Spindell, national sales manager at Hot Sox

“For us, it’s all kind of treatments, like beading and ruffling. It’s fun. People don’t wear a lot of socks in spring and this way, you have to give them a reason for buying. We are also trying to incorporate some shoe treatments into socks, like gel bottoms to give them more of an athletic feel.

I feel very positive about spring, but it’s a short season. You want to get the most bang for your buck quickly. You get three months on what used to be a six month season. You have to lead with your strength because you don’t have the luxury to flow it every four to six weeks. I take my best spring group, and I offer to ship it in December. It gives stores a chance to move away from all of the holiday motifs. It really stands out when you put it on the fixture. At the end of January, I will flow another shipment of spring. The business has to be done early because it stops so soon in the season.”

 

Jennifer Puckett, sales and marketing director, Wolford

“We are still seeing the net being important, particularly that very lightly knitted look for spring, as well as graphic patterns. The graphic does not have to be a hard graphic.…We are still seeing that pretty feminine look as important for spring, and one of our top-booking styles is a very beautiful floral pattern called Fidgi.

We think we’ll have a strong spring. We have had a good reaction on both legwear and bodywear. I think we are still dependent on footwear, and the fact that you still see closed-toed shoes will help us, as will the popularity of skirts.”

 

Pat McNellis, president of women’s brands, Royce Hosiery Mills

“An important trend will be about personal choice and personal adornment. The customer will be buying products that will be customized for her. That will influence what we do next year in all of our brands. Rather than say that it’s one particular look, it’s more of a lifestyle trend. I think it can translate into legwear in lots of ways, whether it’s something handcrafted or the ability to be personalized in some way. It’s purchasing something that makes her feel it is something more individual…a product that will speak more to one’s personal taste than a dictated trend.

“We have to be cautious, because I am hearing that retail in the U.S. will be tough. I am hearing American consumers are facing decreased spending power, and the apparel category may suffer as a result. Therefore you have to interest her even more with product that speaks to this particular personalized trend. You have to push even harder.”

 

Karen Bell, chairman, K. Bell

“First of all, we’re doing lots of athletic inspiration. No-show socks continue to be strong. There’s a lot of very basic styling. Then there’s a whole embellishment trend. We did metallics, rhinestones, fringe and lace. The embellishment started with the brooch this year, and eventually everything trickles down. We also did a denim line, which uses indigo yarn. Jeans are so hot, you’ve never seen so many brands of jeans in your life, so why not give the customer something to wear with them?

“We’re already ahead [for next year based on spring bookings] because of the sports influence and the strength of shorter silhouettes like the no-show and quarter socks. The first half of 2005, at least, will be very, very strong. In general, retail seems to be very strong, and it seems like the department store real estate [for socks] continues to expand.”

 

Elie Levy, president, E & E Hosiery/Planet Sox

“In regard to bodies, knee-highs and over-knees will be strong, especially with the styles of boot that are coming out. A lot of fishnets and different types of open weaves will be popular as will motifs like martini glasses, handbags and beach totes on a sock. We’re already geared up for fall, too. With regard to yarns, angora is going to be very strong, as will soft, chenille and plush yarns. We’re doing a lot of embroidery and a lot of patterns like hearts on the cuffs.

“[Business next year will be] outstanding. There will be a little bit of a hiccup with the whole quota issue for China, but after that pans out, I think back-to-school will be tremendous. The war is slowing down, the election is over, everybody seems more relaxed. For spring, the thing driving the business will be open weave socks in pastels, fishnet tights in red or black, and motifs.”

 

Raymond Dayan, vice president, Gina Hosiery

“For spring, it’s all about color, and we did a lot of conversational prints, very detailed. Also, we’re doing very well with socks in anything feminine, fun, pretty and lacy. I think that everywhere, people have come to accept color. Eight to 10 years ago used to be the same way, it was fantastic, and then we had those years everything was black, gray and brown. But now the greens, the oranges and pink are popular.

I think it’s life. I think people are in a better mood. The economy’s doing better. Last spring, color had a big season and through fall, people are adjusting and buying color. In the sock business, I think people have come to realize it is an accessory, not a necessity. It’s an inexpensive way to dress up an outfit in the same way a pin or hair accessory is.

Based on how business was in 2004, we’re up 27 percent for 2005. Fishnets will continue; you don’t find them as strong as last year, but it’s a piece of the business customers are responding to. We haven’t seen any indication why business would slow down, if anything, we’ve seen the contrary. The consumer’s accepting something different like cashmere or angora yarn. That’s a good indication they’re willing to spend a little bit more to get a little bit more.”

 

Robert Sussman, president, Every Toe Covered

“Color and color with metallic in socks and trouser socks will be strong, especially pink, lime green, orange, turquoise and purple. Buyers are going for sheer crew socks, sheer low tops, and low-cut sport socks in all different treatments and patterns. With the sport look doing such a strong spring showing, updating it and doing fashion styles in low-cut socks is really working. Sheer ribbing, polkadots, open work and pointelles are big. It’s not a tight mesh, it’s more a lot of open work.

Everybody was raving about business this year, and it was just OK. I think the first half of next year will be OK, too. If you have something different, the retailer will buy it. You have to think outside the box. If you do things in salable colors, you have a shot. The spring sock business is always hard, but we have new patterns, new textures and new looks, like our fuzzy metallic toe cover. Fun is going to be huge; you have to give the customer a reason to wear it.”

 

Caron Schillinger, director of marketing, Biella

“I think there’s going to be a lot of striped tights, a lot of novelty tights out there, luxury fibers. People are looking for merino wool and little embellishments like mohair trim or a little flower. You’re seeing it on the clothes now, and it’s definitely going to be in legwear, over-knees with fluffy tops. There will be lots of color, in particular fuchsia, turquoise, lime and orange. People are tired of darks.

“I think business will start to stabilize and level off, and then it’ll start to pick up. Each year gets better and better [in sales] as we get away from 9/11. People have been holding onto their money. Now when they are out spending, they’re looking for things that are high quality. With all the fun sneakers that are out there, people will start to wear fun socks and liners with them. Women in particular don’t like to wear sneakers without something.”

 

Donna Waxman, U.S. agent for Fogal of Switzerland

“Butterflies are what a lot of people are looking for, floating all over the hosiery, multicolor and emerald green. We’re also doing hand-embroidered butterflies on top of socks and knee-highs as a decorative thing. Fishnets are almost considered a conservative basic for spring. But customers are still looking for very loose crochets and new textures. Last spring we did an appliqué and handpainted styles and they didn’t work very well. I think the butterflies come from the European runways.

“I think that spring is going to be as weak as it always is and into summer. We’ve seen a decline in that business as customers are wearing body glitter on their legs or self-tanning. We always have a slow spring; we do 35 percent of what we do in fall and winter. That said, we’ll do really well in the second half. We’re coming off that bright opaque trend from last year. But based on the economy improving, I think it’ll match last fall when we had that huge trend in the market.”

 

Jerry Perry, vice president design and merchandising, Legale

“An important trend for spring is the sporty preppy look, on socks particularly. The shorter capri-length socks are embroidered with bright color accents, very country club. We did snails, butterflies, palm trees, goldfish, lobster and geckos just placed at the top of the sock. I think because of the fun, sporty, athletic preppy look we saw in hats and belts last spring, it’ll be in legwear this year. We got a taste of it, but I think we’ll see a lot more of it.

I think our total assortment looks fresh and clean for 2005, so we’re hopeful about sales. Accessories are doing so well in general that we can only be hopeful.”

 

Arthur Lavitt, president and chief executive officer, Paul Lavitt Mills Inc.

“For the first half of the year, no-shows and accessories for the ankle and foot will be important. Things like lace anklets and foot socks, anything really feminine like floral anklet no-shows will be strong. Also microfiber and anything with a soft hand seems to be doing well. Fishnets and lacy looks are continuing. I think the look complements a lot of the shoes. The lace anklet and junior looks go well with Steve Madden shoes [Paul Lavitt Mills holds the license for Steve Madden socks].

We’re hoping business will increase. This year was our best ever. It’s always a challenge [to top that] but we have some new licenses we’ll be announcing soon that will be terrific. As long as you can continue to produce new product, there’s opportunity for business growth. The China quota may be a challenge balancing imports with domestics, and some of our domestic suppliers are raising prices.”

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