Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Fall can’t arrive fast enough for a few retailers anxious to cash in on the return of legwear.
After several lackluster seasons, stores are counting on sheers, tights and even over-the-knee socks to help boost fall sales. Their fashion-oriented customers are ready to try on some new looks, partly because designers have been showing sheers instead of bare legs in their runway collections.
That has also prompted stores to take a closer look at the category. Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s plan to make a major a color statement in their hosiery departments with gray, plum and burgundy.
The fact that the suit is expected to make a major comeback and interest in pumps and other closed-toe shoes is increasing should further spur fall legwear sales, stores said. “It’s exciting that everyone is talking about legwear. It’s in all the fashion magazines, and designers showed great legwear on the runways,” said Liz Dixon, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and accessories for Bloomingdale’s.
Some retail strategies include offering a greater variety of legwear, featuring sheers in catalogs and sending direct mail legwear pieces to consumers.
Bloomingdale’s plans to play up color and texture in its stores for fall. Grays, browns, plum and burgundy are expected to help generate the retailer’s legwear sales in the fourth quarter, Dixon said.
“Color is going to be important, which is exciting for us. Anything new in fashion is selling for us,” she said. “Tights should have a very good season after a very tough 1999.”
For the first time this spring, Bloomingdale’s featured legwear in its fashion accessories catalog “to get across to customers that this is another essential fashion accessory,” Dixon said. Donna Karan’s color-wash sheers and Givenchy’s Passion Privee control-top capri-length leggings were two of the offerings.
Suits are selling well now, which is good news for fall sales, she said.
“The suit is back, and so is serious dress-up. With the whole YSL feel, people will need to be dressed and finished with great accessories and hosiery,” Dixon said. “There are a lot of great pumps for fall — not sandals.”
Saks Fifth Avenue is also gearing up for fall with legwear.
“With the return of the leg covering, hosiery is definitely on the top-10 list as a must-have accessory. We’re definitely planning it aggressively,” said Barbara Lipton, vice president and dmm of intimate apparel, hosiery and fashion jewelry for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Legwear will be featured more prominently in the retailer’s core fall catalogs than it has been in the past, she said.
“The interest is being generated by the runways, and fashion magazines are picking up on it,” Lipton said. “If the customer sees hosiery is back, it’s going to generate a lot of excitement that there just hasn’t been in the [recent] past.”
Saks does not plan to introduce any new labels, but the retailer is working with such existing resources as Wolford, Donna Karan Collection, Ellen Tracy and Oroblu, to intensify their fall assortments, Lipton said.
Saks also plans to focus on opaques, color and texture in its offerings and in-store displays. In terms of color, black, gray, plum, burgundy and winter white should account for most of the fall business, with bright plum and fuchsia adding some life to the sales floor.
For another novelty look, Saks plans to carry several styles of over-the-knee socks, thigh-highs and leg warmers in its top 10 doors, Lipton said.
Saks expects sales of sheers to be flat compared with last fall, and sales of casual legwear to increase by a high single-digit percentage, she added.
Holt Renfrew, an 11-store operation based in Canada, is “investing” more in texture, color, fishnets and nudes, said Sally Scott, director of promotions and marketing. There are also plans to feature hosiery more prominently in in-store displays, windows and in catalogs.
“It’s an exciting time for legwear and we welcome its return,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of ladylike looks for fall. Hosiery plays a big part in downplaying that look, by giving a modern edge to it.”
With legwear expected to be a must-have for fall, Wolford aims to capture more customers, including young ones, with colorful fishnets and patterned fashion styles. The company decided recently to add a red fishnet number and a wide-net fishnet item to its fall collection, four fashion items and two basic tights, a Wolford American spokeswoman said.
“We’ve introduced a few new styles due to the trend,” she said. “People are looking to expand and diversify in general. It looks like this fall season will be a strong one for all of us. I think women are excited to wear hosiery again.”
Fashion editors are more interested in featuring hosiery in their pages than in recent seasons, and skirts, which call for sheers or tights, are expected to make a comeback this fall, the Wolford spokeswoman said.
“If this season is any reflection, legwear is going to be stronger this year than last year — especially fishnets,” she said. “We’ve always had the Wolford customer, but this should give us the opportunity to get new customers who have not explored Wolford before.”
Fogal of Switzerland is also working to attract younger affluent customers with new fall merchandise.
Having learned from a study released last week that the average age of hosiery shoppers is 50, the company aims to update its image with a collection of knitwear accessories, according to Christiane Rauff, marketing director. The 12-piece group of gloves, bags, hats and sweaters coordinates with the brand’s legwear and will be shipped to Fogal stores in July.
Designed to be more exclusive than its current offerings, some of the new items will retail between $500 and $1,000.
“Basically, legwear is losing market share, especially in Switzerland and Europe. Legwear accounts for 70 percent of the sales in our stores, and the rest has to be filled with other products,” Rauff said. “Now there is demand to make something more exclusive. But everything fits back to legwear.”