Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — “Pantyhose is a product you love to hate,” says James Casty, who owns the eight Wolford boutiques in the U.S. “You hate to wear them, hate to wash them, and you hate to buy them.”
Then why is he planning to open at least seven more Wolford hosiery boutiques by the end of 1997? Because Casty figures shopping for hosiery in a department store is a “horrible experience.” Department stores stock an overwhelming number of brands, he said, and it can be daunting to find your size and color.
Plus, he thinks affluent women are ready and willing to shop his boutiques for $40 sheers that feel soft and wear well.
“The department stores can never provide what a branded boutique can,” Casty said. “They don’t have the [depth in] stock that we do — we have 6,000 pieces of hosiery and bodywear here.”
A department store might carry only one-quarter of the stock available at the boutique, he said. Plus, the boutique provides a dressing room, which is uncommon in most hosiery departments.
Casty’s company, New York-based Wolford Boutique, has the exclusive rights to open Wolford shops in the U.S. The maker of luxury legwear is based in Bregenz, Austria.
Wolford’s boutiques strengthen brand awareness and business in neighboring specialty and department stores that sell Wolford, he claimed. In Dallas, for example, Wolford is also sold at Neiman Marcus, Stanley Korshak, Sheers and Episode stores.
Earlier this month, Casty was here for the opening of his eighth store in Highland Park Village, the city’s toniest shopping center, which also houses Chanel, Calvin Klein, Escada, Hermes and Polo Ralph Lauren, among others.
The Highland Park store, at 1,200 square foot, is temporary. In March, the store will relocate to an 800-square-foot spot next to the planned Ultimo store. Casty said he took the bigger space to be open for holiday selling.
In line with the other Wolford units, the Dallas shop should generate $600,000 in first-year retail sales, and that figure should climb to $1 million annually, Casty said. Hosiery and bodywear sales each account for 50 percent of the retailer’s business, Casty said.
Casty selects markets based on the affluence of the demographics.
“Dallas is a major retail market,” he said. “As you go through the demographics of the country, it always comes up in the top five or eight cities. I must go to the finest address in each city for upscale clothing, and this is the Madison Avenue of Dallas.”
Designer stores in Highland Park Village generate more than $1,000 in sales per square foot annually, according to a spokeswoman for Henry S. Miller Interests, which owns and operates the center.
Casty plans to open individual units in Phoenix’s Biltmore Fashion Park next month, in San Francisco in February and one in Bal Harbour, Fla., next spring. All new stores are planned to be 800 to 900 square feet.
Casty said he is also scouting for locations to open new stores in Houston; Boston; San Diego; Atlanta; Troy, Mich., and Honolulu.
Casty’s most productive unit is the four-year-old store at 619 Madison Avenue, which does more than $2 million annually in 800 square feet of space.
The least profitable is on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, which is breaking even. Casty said that’s because it’s 1,500 square feet, which, he said, is the smallest space he could lease, but is too big for a hosiery store. However, he plans to keep it open because of the cachet of Rodeo Drive.
“It’s an important place to be,” he noted.
The boutiques don’t have exclusive merchandise yet, but Casty expects that will change next spring when they will carry three or four exclusive styles of hosiery and bodywear.
Some new products are launched in the boutiques. For spring, Wolford swimwear will be sold only at the boutiques for the first season. Men’s hosiery, another new category, will bow this month and will be sold exclusively in the stores.
When Casty opens a new unit, the shop develops its own mailing list based on women who have shopped in its other stores. In Dallas, that list numbers over 1,000. Wolford sends them catalogs and hooks up with a local charity to sponsor an event, such as a benefit party. And Casty presents a pair of hosiery as a gift to about 150 to 200 affluent women in the neighborhood. They are selected by the staff, who pick socially prominent women who are known fashion plates.