Byline: Alessandra Ilari

VERONA, Italy — Little did Miuccia Prada imagine that when she slipped fishnet stockings under her uptown chic looks last spring, her styling decision would give the hosiery industry a much-needed boost.
At FAST, the only European trade fair showcasing technology for hosiery knitting, dyeing, finishing and packaging, exhibitors confirmed that after touching the bottom of the barrel in 1999 — when sales dropped dramatically — business was on the upswing again by the end of last year.
Executives showing at FAST, which ended its four-day run here on March 24, said that fashion trends have been a successful cure for the ailing market. Color-filled palettes, funky anklets with a retro flair and jumbo optical prints that scream Seventies and Eighties, for example, went from the runways to the knitting looms of hosiery manufacturers.
In general, anything with a pattern — micro designs, lace motifs and relief effects — were crowd pleasers.
“Granted that fishnets are usually subject to five-year fashion cycles, the news coming from the runways is very important and stimulating,” said Milena Palmieri, marketing manager at Ibici, a high-end pantyhose manufacturer.
“Now that pantyhose is made to last, it should be considered a fashion accessory that reflects the message designers are giving. That’s why fishnets and color are the locomotive of the sector right now, especially in the U.S.,” said Umberto Rognoni, the marketing manager at Nylstar.
Legwear as a fashion accessory was also a key concept at DuPont, a company that helped revolutionize a market dominated by nylon with Lycra and Tactel.
“The fact that designers have put hosiery center stage again has helped the ailing industry,” said Margaret Jacob, global marketing and communications manager of legwear at DuPont Apparel & Textile Sciences, a newly formed division that regroups fibers to better meet market needs.
The fair, held every three years, attracted 14,000 visitors, 970 of which were American, a mammoth increase from the 130 that made the trip in 1998.
For growth, Jacob said why not dedicate the same fanciful knitting and dyeing techniques, looks and finishes of hosiery to knee-highs.
“If a woman spends money to buy a great pantsuit, why would she want to wear boring knee-highs underneath?” she noted. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for all segments, from teenagers to dressier women who buy designer clothes.”
DuPont’s focus on giving fibers a fashion spin was evident with Tactel metallics. This fiber offers a silver and gold shimmer similar to Lurex and lame, but it is softer than traditional metallic yarns. Visual effects can vary in sparkle, shine and shimmer, depending on yarn combinations and knitting techniques.
Seamless looks were cited as a fast-growing area by many exhibitors. Ibici and Nylstar, for example, showed bandeau tops, clam diggers, HotPants and micro T-shirts in a rainbow of colors.
“Seamless technology is increasingly popular because it gives the clothes a contemporary look and great wearability,” said Nylstar’s Rognoni.
Two leading companies have built a solid, worldwide reputation for seamless products: Sangiacomo, which produces 250 machines a month, and Gruppo Lonati, which in the U.S alone sold more than 30,000 machines to manufacturers.
According to Clifford A. Ginn, Sangiacomo’s sales manager, U.S. clients particularly liked a lin-toe machine that automatically closes the toe on the sock. That concept was further perfected with a one-of-a-kind, two-cylinder machine, especially made for FAST.
“Technically, it’s a great achievement because, up until now, the toe was closed manually,” he said, adding that this is a labor-effective process.
Nylstar showcased a new-and-improved version of its trademark Meryl nylon fiber. Meryl spring gives a manmade fiber the same aspect and volume as cotton.
Nylstar is especially active in the U.S, where it acquired a production plant in Ridgeway, Va. and invested $45 million to upgrade existing machinery that produces nylon fibers for weaving and warp knitting. The goal is to double its current U.S share to eight percent of its $620 million sales in 2000.