Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Socks — especially athletic socks — and private label programs will be the focus of this week’s legwear market.
Although the market officially opens today and ends Friday, buyers started reviewing spring and summer lines two weeks ago. Additional showroom appointments are scheduled for next week, vendors said.
Tired of black legwear, retailers are looking for new products and more color to brighten the spring sales floor, said Gary Wolkowitz, president and design director for The Hot Sox Co..
Sport socks, “an explosive category,” is expected to continue to be important for a few years, he said.
Spring orders for Polo Sport and Silver Sport, a collection of sports-specific socks under the licensed Ralph Lauren label, should contribute to the planned 15 percent gain for the designer’s legwear sales, Wolkowitz said.
“Stores are reacting to the wall of basics. If you’re only selling black and white socks, there comes a point where it doesn’t matter whose brand it is,” said Wolkowitz. “There’s a real change. Retailers are now looking for an assortment of products.”
During market, Gold Medal Hosiery aims to strengthen both its private label and licensed sport sock business. For spring, five major retailers, including a couple of sporting goods stores, will test private label sport socks.
Sales for sport socks currently account for 35 percent of Gold Medal’s annual $28 million volume, said Ira Wertenteil, vice president. For 1997, that figure could increase to 43 percent.
This week Gold Medal unveils its licensed Apex sport socks. The seven-piece collection wholesales from 80 cents to $1.
Later this year, the company will introduce a five-piece collection of licensed Ryka sport socks, which will probably also wholesale from 80 cents to $1.
“We’re putting a lot of energy into sport socks. That’s where the growth is for legwear and apparel,” Wertenteil said.
At the Trimfit showroom, about 60 buyers will check out Anna Sui’s first sock collection. The designer currently produces tights through Trimfit. With sales 12 percent ahead of last year, the company expects the 20-piece line to boost spring orders by at least a comparable amount, said Marty Kramer, Trimfit’s chairman.
Giorgio Armani Calze is projecting spring orders 35 percent ahead of last year, since retailers plan to test more spring socks in January to forecast trends, said Bill Bell, president.
Sport socks, romantic looks and matte shine styles are expected to be key.
“Tights are becoming significantly less important for spring. A lot of stores are looking to replace them with socks,” Bell said. “They need to know what styles will be most important — casual, dress or sport socks.”
With the last-named category gaining popularity, there are 14 styles of athletic-inspired socks — four more than last year, Bell said.
Knee-highs and anklets in Tactel and rayon could be bestsellers. The group is available in 12 colors and wholesales from $5.50 to $7.
For 1996, Ben Berger anticipates private label sales will account for 40 percent of the company’s total sales, compared with 30 percent in 1995, said Jeff Ring, vice president of sales and marketing.
Private label sales have increased by 35 percent, due primarily to demand for athletic socks, which were not offered last year. Cotton blend anklets wholesale for $1.75 and low-cut anklets for $1.40.
Building its private label business has Ben Berger looking for an increase in spring orders by 20 percent.
The firm is optimistic about business, since production facilities will be operating at maximum capacity through the end of the year. In addition, many stores are currently requesting immediate orders and some are already writing spring orders, Ring said.
Nicole Miller socks are expected to be the most popular label at the Paul Lavitt Mills showroom, where sales for the line are currently running 65 percent ahead of last year’s. The company also produces Round the Clock socks.
Expanding offerings from 20 styles to 30 styles and doubling the sales staff bolstered business for the Nicole Miller line in the past six months, said Arthur Lavitt, president.
For private label, Pennaco Hosiery is introducing a seven-piece Custom Couture Luxury Collection. Prices range from $3.95 for Lycra sheers to $6.75 for Lycra 3D opaques.
The launch should help Pennaco increase November market orders by 10 percent over last year’s, said Mitch Brown, legwear manager.
“The market is headed into better quality, higher-priced hosiery. Donna and Calvin are in every store,” Brown said. “Stores have to use private label to make themselves special.”
The big news at the Hanes Hosiery showroom will be the company’s sponsorship of Tina Turner’s U.S. spring tour.
Turner appears in ads for Silk Reflections, Smooth Illusions and Resilience legwear. Resilience’s retail rollout will coincide with the spring tour, which could include about 40 cities. Retailers are anxious to learn how they can tie into the tour sponsorship, said the Hanes spokeswoman.
Hanes is counting on a “very strong market,” she said, adding, “A lot of the stores have been asking, ‘What are we getting and how can we leverage this into our store?’ “
Hanes plans to offer sweepstakes giveaways, local radio promotions and in-store events.