Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Spring doesn’t have to signal a slowdown in legwear sales.
That was the word from buyers and vendors at last week’s hosiery market, as they addressed a variety of tactics — from new products to marketing plans — to put a charge into typically sluggish spring business.
Macy’s West, for example, plans to focus its spring orders on socks, which are current bestsellers, while Neiman Marcus is turning its attention to better-priced, textured sheers to coordinate with this spring’s more feminine apparel.
“The news is really in sheers, especially with all the texture and lace looks we saw on the runways in Europe,” said Sandra Wilson, fashion director of accessories at Neiman’s. “If sheers make a fashion statement, she’ll buy it.”
For their part, a few manufacturers unveiled new products and marketing plans, with the hopes of piquing buyers’ interest.
Hanes Hosiery introduced a four-piece group of underpinnings in its licensed Donna Karan sheer pantyhose.
Designed to be worn beneath the designer’s sheer spring looks, the Supplex nylon and spandex collection retails for $55 for capri leggings to $75 for a unitard with leggings.
During market, Hanes turned the spotlight on Tina Turner, who appears in ads for Hanes Resilience, Smooth Illusions and Silk Reflections.
Featuring Turner in this fall’s Resilience ad campaign has helped push the brand’s sales ahead by 36 percent compared to last year, said Joan Stonitsch, president of Hanes Hosiery.
At the Hanes showroom, buyers learned about a sales incentive program to be unveiled this spring at retail in conjunction with Turner’s North American concert tour, which Hanes will sponsor.
As part of the program, customers who purchase at least three pairs of Resilience, Smooth Illusions or Silk Reflections hose will have the option to purchase memorabilia from Turner’s tour.
In addition, Hanes will offer discounts on its hosiery, depending on the number of units purchased.
Kayser-Roth executives told buyers about its plans to offer monthly full-priced promotions from January thro-ugh June for its licensed Calvin Klein and CK by Calvin Klein hosiery. An ad campaign will support the program.
With designer names continuing to drive the sheer business, Kayser-Roth is planning for a 45 percent gain in spring sales for Calvin Klein hosiery and a 25 percent gain for CK by Calvin Klein hosiery, said Pat McNellis, national sales manager for Kayser-Roth.
Offering 19 new fashion styles for spring — a 30 percent increase over last spring — should contribute to the planned 20 percent sales boost for Hue, another Kayser-Roth label.
Spring got a late start at Kayser-Roth, McNellis noted, with many stores holding off on spring orders until late October — three weeks later than usual.
The company has put additional production into work to handle the late orders, McNellis said.
At DML Marketing, Legale’s Sportsters, a new 12-style group of athletic-inspired socks, were a big hit for spring. The company expects the group, which wholesales for $2.10, to account for 25 percent of its spring business, said Mark Heirbaum, president of DML.
About 42 stores ordered Sportsters, which should account for 25 percent of Legale’s spring business, he added. With spring budgets slightly larger than last year’s, retailers were buying into two trends — sport and dressy, Heirbaum said.
Buyers at the Pennaco Hosiery showroom were on the lookout for more formal styles. With sales for sheers running flat to slightly ahead of last year’s, many of the 30 retailers shopping at Pennaco discussed strategies to bolster spring sales, said Mitch Brown, legwear manager.
Retailers said they planned to focus on higher-end products or to introduce Custom Couture Luxury, a line of private label sheers, Brown said.
A seven-piece group was introduced last month as a lower-priced alternative to designer hosiery. The private label group wholesales from $3.95 to $6.75.
“Stores want to raise the average price from $5 or $6 to somewhere between $9 and $20,” he said.
“They know they can’t sell any more units. They see no other way than to sell higher-priced goods,” Brown added.
Sheer business should improve provided stores offer more fashionable looks such as romantic lace styles and pale lilac tones, said Barbara Guzy, senior vice president and fashion merchandising director for Pennaco.
“We’re dealing with number crunchers,” Guzy said. “Stores won’t be creative until some European stylist shows it, and then they want it tomorrow.”
For spring, Neiman’s Wilson said she plans to offer such runway looks as lace styles, fishnet hosiery and sheers with back seams, since shoppers are looking for newness.
In September, shoppers at Neiman Marcus started favoring unusual sheers more than moderate-priced products, she said.
Fogal and Wolford, two high-end brands for sheers, are fueling the retailer’s sheer business, Wilson added.
“They’re looking for more exclusive designer looks,” she said. “Hosiery is trending with other accessories. If something is really beautiful, price is no issue.”
Neiman’s sheer hosiery business is ahead of last year and sales should pick up through spring, Wilson said. Nude tones, pastels, textures and metallic shimmers are expected to be important.
Barneys New York is also working on something special to get customers interested in hosiery for spring.
Apparel designers Dianna & Evelyn de Clerca and Christina Bomba, who have never produced legwear, are designing socks under their own labels exclusively for Barneys, said Judy Collinson, divisional merchandise manager.
In total, there will be 20 sock styles, which will retail from $32 for silk and linen crew socks to $65 for cashmere and silk trouser socks.
For its private label, Barneys plans to unveil three styles of antique-looking baby socks that will retail at $22.
“Socks are extremely strong right now. The timing is right for this,” Collinson said.
In addition to its new plan for socks, Barneys has increased its legwear budget for spring, said Collinson, who plans to review lines for sheers at Wolford, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein and socks at American Essentials, Giorgio Armani Calze and Calvin Klein.
Socks have been bestsellers at Macy’s West, where October sales for the category were 20 percent ahead of plan, said Rich Zappala, hosiery buyer.
Hue, Anne Klein, Ralph Lauren, Ellen Tracy, Giorgio Armani Calze and Liz Claiborne are key vendors, he said. Hue’s neutral socks, which looked “very good,” should spark spring sales, Zappala said.
Other market standouts included CK by Calvin Klein tights with horizontal stripes, DKNY’s open-work tights and Hue’s quarter-top socks, he added.
“Texture and open-work looks will be important based on their success for fall,” Zappala said.
“We’ve seen some very salable looks for what can be a difficult selling period,” he added.

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