NEW LINES LIVEN MARKET

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — A smattering of new labels and some freshly minted licensing deals helped put a kick in last week’s legwear market.
There were plenty of luxury-inspired socks from newcomers Ilux and Rosetti, as well as Kenneth Cole, which is now being produced by Liz Claiborne. Longstockings, a brand of layered looks, also unveiled its new fall line at last week’s Style Industrie trade show (see story, page 23).
Many hosiery manufacturers were busy talking up their licensing deals. Pennaco Hosiery has picked up the Ellen Tracy and Evan-Picone legwear licenses and Surratt Marketing Group has taken over the Rockport one. Ridgeview Inc., which was sold last month to Gibor Sport Alpha Sock, used to hold the licenses to Ellen Tracy, Evan-Picone and Rockport legwear.
These announcements helped create a buzz in what is generally a quiet market.
Lynn Sexton and Robert Cole, the founders of Ilux, a new label of legwear with coordinating accessories, picked up 26 accounts at this month’s Accessorie Circuit trade show. Cashmere, mohair and merino wool socks, cashmere-blend tights, open-work shawls, a mock-neck sweater and a poncho with diagonal stripes were some of the standouts at the show, they said.
The collection items, made of luxurious fabrics and designed to be merchandised together, are well suited for specialty stores that have the space to group them together.
The tights are made of 38 percent cashmere with hand-linked toes, flat seams and a special finish that makes them machine washable. The products were 18 months in development, Cole said.
“Our goal is to have people come to us for that kind of well-developed product that takes time,” he said. “We’re not just adding luxury fibers. We want to make sure they fit properly.”
Knowing that color is a major selling point with consumers, Ilux has merchandise in such shades as deep pink, pale pink, periwinkle blue, baby blue, ivory, army green and black. Luxury fibers hold the colors well, Sexton said.
Liz Claiborne showed off its new 20-piece Kenneth Cole legwear collection, which includes anklets, trouser socks, crew socks and tights. Retail prices range from $6.50 to $18. In August, Kenneth Cole legwear will be shipped to 300 doors, said Helen Welsh, president of Liz Claiborne Accessories.
For fall 2001, there are plans to launch another legwear line under Cole’s secondary label, Reaction. The company is also making the shoe designer’s sportswear line, which bows for fall.
Liz Claiborne has reduced the offerings in its own legwear line by 30 percent in response to a retail trend.
“Retailers are continuing to look for novelty and interesting new yarns with modern types of advances. They’re narrowing down their vendors to show what they stand for,” Welsh said. “They’re not trying to be everything to everyone. They want to focus on the right items.”
At the E&E Hosiery showroom, socks in animal prints, especially snakeskin, were a must-have for its newly licensed Rosetti line, said Elie Levy, president. Buyers also liked the looks of florals, polkadots and butterfly motifs. This fall, about 30 stores are expected to test the line, including several that would be working with E&E Hosiery for the first time.
“If you have a brand that means something to the end consumer, the chains are going to maximize that,” he said. “They want to show [in advertising and point-of-purchase items] as many different types of items under the same brand that they can.”
Business has been increasing so much that E&E Hosiery has leased 2,000 square feet of additional office space at its West 33rd Street location. In August, the company plans to open offices and a showroom in Israel to pursue business there, as well as in Turkey and Egypt.
“This has been an exciting week. There’s a lot going on in the legwear business.” Levy said. “Buyers need as much help as they can to merchandise and sell products.”
At Look From London, printed metallic fishnets, floral prints, mini argyles, tattoo prints and gold looks have been generating a lot of interest, said Tony Taylor, creative director. The fact that the brand’s tights imprinted with colorful lipsticks have been a big hit shows how willing buyers are to experiment.
“Stores are absolutely ordering more than last year. Our business has quadrupled compared to last year,” he said. “We’re offering almost everything in 12 colors. A lot of stores are doing themes.”
What surprised Taylor most during market week was how many buyers were opting for gold metallics instead of silver.
“Gold has always been more glamorous, richer looking and more sophisticated,” Taylor said. “I guess people are looking more toward the holidays.”
Having wrapped up most fall bookings during March market, Gary Wolkowitz, president and chief executive officer of The Hot Sox Co., described last week as “very lightly traveled.”
“We’re seeing fewer and fewer people at May market,” he said. “More of them expect to see you in the field. March, August and November markets are when we really put out all the newness.”
To try to help decrease showroom appointments for retailers, Hot Sox is sending small packages of key spring and summer looks as “a news flash, instead of making a big story,” Wolkowitz said.
Having wrapped up fall plans with retailers prior to market, Nine West legwear showed off its holiday sheers. Sheer thigh-highs, thigh-highs with satin bands, fishnet thigh-highs and shimmer thigh-highs were unveiled.
The pricing strategy is three pairs for $18 and each package will have a photo of a model wearing the product.
“There’s been a great response, despite the fact that the sheer business has been tough,” said Pat McNellis, president of Royce Hosiery. “We’re getting door expansion.”