Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Legwear makers aren’t about to let continued consolidation, soft sales of sheers or the popularity of sandals dampen their enthusiasm for this month’s market.
More relaxed than March market, which was the curtain-raiser for fall merchandise, May presents an opportunity to hammer out fall and holiday plans. But what makers really want to talk about are items — especially thigh-highs, knee-highs, over-the-knee socks and other nontraditional silhouettes that are expected to rejuvenate business.
Colorful and printed styles, including a few with details that would rival the illustrations in a children’s book, are supposed to give business an additional lift. There are even printed options for fishnets, another strong contender for the title of “top fall trend.”
All this optimism comes at a time when the legwear market has seen some major consolidation. Last month, Sara Lee Hosiery acquired the license for Jockey hosiery, and Ridgeview Inc. was sold to Gibor Sport Alpha Sock, an Israel-based sport sock manufacturer. Pennaco Hosiery announced Friday its new licensing deals with Ellen Tracy and Evan Picone, two labels that were previously produced by Ridgeview. (See related story, page 29).
Molly Mott, vice president of sales at Kayser-Roth, said executives are anxious to wrap up fall and holiday plans, partly because of all the changes in the market.
“There’s been a lot of commotion going on. I think buyers want to get to market to see what is around,” Mott said. “Different players means there will be different things.”
Kayser-Roth Corp. is introducing Calvin Klein fishnets and a few new styles of Hue socks, including some imprinted with holiday motifs. There is even a style with a candy cane design that is scented like peppermint.
Such novelty items are in demand, according to legwear makers.
“Stores are definitely looking for more items. Novelty in general is driving the hosiery business,” said Wayne Lederman, president of Leg Resource. “Stores want to have newness constantly, which is a change in strategy for them. They want to see what’s available on a monthly basis.”
In response, Lederman said he is traveling more to meet with retailers and sending them more packages of new styles.
The company’s key components for fall are luxury yarns, knee-highs, over-the-knee socks, fishnets, toe socks and legwarmers.
“Buyers are still buying closer to need and they want to make sure they have the right trend coming in at the right time,” Lederman added.
Karen Bell, president and chief executive officer of K. Bell, said that she is focusing on printed items and colorful styles. The company has added seven new colors for tights, colorful fishnets and Valentine’s Day-motif socks. Purple, gray and blues are expected to be the most important colors for fall.
K. Bell is also serving up more intricate printed styles, like tights covered with various images of dogs, Bell said. Dalmations, collies, poodles and cocker spaniels are among the images.
This week, E&E Hosiery unveils its licensed Rosetti legwear.
The label is aimed at professional women in the moderate-to-better market who shop in department stores and specialty chains. Thirty stores — all potentially new accounts — are scheduled to check out the 45-piece collection of tights, anklets and trouser socks. Wholesale prices range from $1.10 to $4.
Elie Levi, president of E & E, attributed the interest in the new label to the popularity of Rosetti accessories.
“It’s good to have a name that represents something the customer understands,” he said.
First-year projected wholesale volume is $4 million, Levi said.
Having relied on mom-and-pop stores for the bulk of his business, Tony Taylor, creative director of Look From London, now finds himself in the precarious position of accommodating specialty-store chains without alienating his core customers. The popularity of novelty looks has caused this dilemma, prompting more chains to buy nontraditional styles.
“It’s kind of risky. We don’t want to drive away our home base,” he said. “We won’t offer the same styles to mom-and-pop stores that we offer to our specialty [chains]. The smaller stores are the ones that have kept me in business for all these years. Obviously, the chains are where the big bucks are, but we want to control both [channels] so there isn’t any conflict.”
Maintaining price points is another issue that Look From London is dealing with. The brand’s average wholesale price is $9, but chains want $6.50 to $7 items, Taylor said. The company plans to avoid undercutting its core retailers, he said.
Taylor pointed to printed fishnets, snakeskin prints and legwear printed with tattoos as hot fall items.
To build on the popularity of printed styles, Look From London has branched out to offer printed innerwear, halter tops, tube tops and recycled Levi’s.
Accessory Network is another believer in variation.
The company will be showing knee-highs, legwarmers, over-the-knee socks, toe socks and printed tights. Halley Mechanic, hosiery merchandiser, noted that knee-length items are coming back into style for the first time in a few years.
“It’s coming back. They’re wearing it in the European market and in Asia. All the juniors and kids are wearing them,” she said.
On another front, hand-knit designs, argyles, appliques and printed fishnets should also be important, Mechanic said. Retailers are expected to take advantage of the variety of offerings.
“There’s something innovative for stores to liven up their floors and attract customers’ attention,” she said.
Legwear maker Oroblu will also offer more thigh-highs and over-the-knee socks in a variety of colors. Apple green, bright red, olive green, bamboo and mocha are among the new shades.
“We decided to do this because there was so much demand for color at the last market,” said Dianne Miller, managing director of Oroblu.
There are six new colors of fishnets, designed to be layered over colorful tights.
The company is branching into seamless innerwear with a group of 14 styles.
“We wanted to diversify beyond hosiery. Hosiery has been not so hot for the past five years,” Miller said. “We wanted to bring more of a brand presence to stores.”
L’s Wear New York, the U.S. distributor of Kunert legwear, a German label, has revamped its line to offer more American-friendly styles such as control-top or sandal-toe sheers. The company is also introducing more printed microfiber tights with geometric or floral designs and more “Wellness” legwear.
The debut of a new line of intimate apparel should help give Kunert more leverage with major chains, said Ernst Lange, president of L’s Wear.
“It shows the brand as a concept, and not just loose items. It will help us build and get more recognition,” he said. “It’s better than having a few items singled out that might be unique in themselves.