Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Last week’s unseasonably warm temperatures weren’t solely responsible for lightening the mood during market.
With a flurry of new products and labels to choose from, legwear executives were upbeat about fall business, the category’s most important season.
“The spirit during market was different than it’s been in a few years,” said Julia Clinard Townsend, vice president and general manager of Kayser-Roth Corp. “Legwear is being used as an accessory again. We’re coming into a fashion cycle with legwear. Legwear was all over the runways.”
Prada’s decision to feature legwear prominently in its recent runway show prompted several others to follow suit, said Joyce Darkey, general manager of Pennaco, Danskin’s hosiery division. Reflecting how such high-fashion interest trickles down to the masses, even Katie Couric mentioned the return of sheers on the “Today” show last week, she said.
“The Today show is about as mainstream as you can get,” Darkey said. “People are talking about the category. It’s coming into our consciousness.”
Buyers were so enthusiastic about all the fall colors that Darkey said she had to tell a few who were buying across a broad palette, “That may be too aggressive — you only had two fashion colors last year.”
Shopping at the Ridgeview showroom, Marcy Pettitt, founder of Alexblake.com, a new e-commerce site that specializes in hosiery, said she was in the market for sheers and casual legwear. Ridgeview’s Ellen Tracy and Dolci Calze are two of the legwear labels offered by the Internet company.
Sheers account for about 65 percent of the e-tailer’s merchandise; socks and tights make up the remainder, Pettitt said.
During market, she planned to visit some of the other brands featured on the site, including Calvin Klein sheers, Hanes, Donna Karan, DKNY and Oroblu. In addition to adding Hue socks to Alexblake.com’s immediate offerings, Pettitt said she would also check out the Falke collection at Easton International, a potential new brand for her site.
At the American Essentials showroom, Rich Zappala, buyer for Macy’s West, said he was most interested in the company’s licensed Calvin Klein socks. A navy over-the-knee sock with lime green trim was one of his favorite looks.
“CK looks great. The fashion and the luxury looks are very strong. I also like all the colors in the basics,” Zappala said.
For fall, Macy’s West expects socks sales to be 8 percent ahead of last fall. Sales of sheers are planned to be down less than 5 percent, “which is better than it’s been,” he said. The designer sheer business continues to be difficult, Zappala said.
Tommy Hilfiger’s new legwear line, especially the fashion component, was a market standout for the buyer.
Another new label unveiled during market was Hanes Ultimate, a collection of socks and tights that will retail between $5 and $7.
This spring the company tested the group in 250 doors and now plans to boost distribution to 1,650 doors, said Jackie Burdett, vice president of marketing for Ultimate. The casual, athletic and dress socks are aimed at women between the ages of 20 and 52.
Prior to developing the line, Hanes held focus groups with about 100 women, quizzing them about their style preferences. Among the biggest complaints were uncomfortable toe seams and socks that were tight-fitting and bulky.
For the August launch, shoppers who buy two pairs of Ultimate legwear will receive a third pair free. In October, there will be another promotion, offering a complimentary pair of Ultimate to anyone who purchases two pairs of Hanes Silk Reflections.
While there will not be a national advertising campaign for Ultimate, there are major plans to jazz up hosiery departments with posters, lifestyle images, signature fixtures and cue cards about wardrobing, Burdett said.
The Hot Sox Co. launched the Purple Label collection for its licensed Ralph Lauren legwear and Berkshire Hosiery introduced advertising and in-store displays designed by As If, a New York advertising agency.
“We wanted to reposition the brand because it’s being placed more nationally,” said Jill Greenwood du Pont, president and chief executive officer. “Before it didn’t really have an image. We wanted to make a name people understood and recognized.”
The print ads feature women in such unusual situations as approaching a flying saucer, with the tag line, “Be There in Berkshire.” The images will also be used for in-store displays and inserts, and the company has developed new packaging.
At the Berkshire showroom, buyers were particularly enthusiastic about fall promotions that will give shoppers a chance to win movie tickets and a trip to Las Vegas.
“They like it because we’re doing something totally different. They said it adds excitement to what we’re already doing,” du Pont said.
Multipacks and multiple pricing were the focus at the Gold Toe showroom where buyers were interested in fashion socks, sports-specific socks and trouser socks, said Jill Fergus, vice president.
“It was a great market because of our new pricing strategies and new products. It was busy and easy because everyone was upbeat about it,” she said.
Jordan Lipson, president and ceo of American Essentials, reported retailers are fired up about casual legwear “across the board.” Over-the-knee socks, knee-highs, thigh-highs and anything with animal prints, embellishment or embroidery received “a very strong response,” he said.
For its signature collection, American Essentials introduced more multiple pricing, new packaging and fashion. For fall, the company increased its offerings for “Touch Me,” a luxury yarn group now with 10 styles.
Robert Sussman, president of ETC Hosiery, said he was pleased with how retailers responded to its new licensed Jessica McClintock legwear for specialty stores and bridal shops. With wholesale prices ranging from $2.50 to $6, the 47-piece collection has bridal sheers, thigh-highs, trouser socks and embellished anklets.
First-year projected wholesale volume is $1.5 million, Sussman said.
To draw attention to the Jessica McClintock line, ETC has designed triangular fixtures for in-store displays.
Bonnie August, who designs her own line of legwear, also played up embellishment for fall. She showcased items with rivets, silver studs and Austrian crystals. There were also socks without toes and heels that can be layered over tights or worn as sandal socks.
At the Ridgeview showroom, buyers checked out Reve Avoix, a new label of leg-highs with coordinating panties. Ridgeview also introduced sharper-priced socks under its licensed Ellen Tracy label. The eight-piece group retails for around $7; the collection socks retail from $9 to $16.
“This has been as good a week as we have ever had,” said Barry Tartarkin, who is expected to complete a deal to buy Ridgeview’s women’s hosiery division for $8.4 million in cash by the end of the month. “It’s nice to have people come in and be upbeat. They’re not seeing the same old thing.”
Standouts at the Kayser-Roth showroom were Hue tights with animal prints and multiple-priced trouser socks, and Calvin Klein’s new “Invisibles” control-top opaques and “Cool Control” sheers, said Molly Mott, vice president of sales.
At E & E Hosiery, Elie Levy, president, informed buyers of the company’s plans to unveil legwear for Rosetti, an accessories firm, during May market. The company already produces legwear under the Details and Planet Sox labels.
The 40-style Rosetti collection will feature trouser socks, crew socks, tights and basic socks made primarily of mercerized cotton and rayon blends. Rosetti legwear will be aimed at women between the ages of 20 and 40 with an annual income of about $60,000, Levi said.
For 2000, the line is expected to generate $6 million in wholesale volume.
Some of the strong interest in fall may be attributed to retailers having “written off” spring, according to Stanley Kreinek, president and chief executive officer of the Sock Yard, the maker of Stanley Blacker and Herman Geist socks.
“Most of the chains are so big now that they have to finish their fall plans two months earlier than they used to,” he said.