VENDORS READY FOR FALL TURNAROUND TIME

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Elated that fashion magazines and designers have been turning their attention to legwear for the first time in a few years, hosiery firms, who have gone through some tough times during that period, are anxious to see if it can translate into a fall revival.
This would portend well for the fourth quarter, which is typically the busiest season for the legwear market. This holiday season seems to have lots of trend potential, since a variety of styles — fishnets, glitzy sheers and colorful opaques — are expected to be must-have items.
“The Gap era is a little passe now. People are fed up with the basic uniform look of a pair of khakis and a black T-shirt,” said Ernst Lange, president of L’s Wear New York. “Legwear has always been the one accessory that people can really make a statement with. If people see how it complements an outfit, that’s good.”
Gerbe, a French label, will bow at Henri Bendel this fall in a variety of departments, said Regina Littles, national sales manager for Gerbe. After a one-year hiatus, the retailer is getting back into the legwear business.
“Henri Bendel is a pioneer for stepping out of the box to offer customers a more unique way to purchase hosiery,” she said. “They’re making hosiery available for the customer so she doesn’t have to roam the floor to find it.”
Lange of L’s Wear N.Y., the U.S. distributor of Kunert legwear, a German label, said that stores are interested in fashion-oriented items — not just black tights — for the first time in two years. Kunert has quadrupled sales of its back-seam sheers with a Cuban heel compared to last year.
Next month, Accessory Network unveils its licensed Dollhouse legwear line. The 60-style group will be shipped to midtier department stores and specialty stores for spring, according to Craig Chorney, fashion director.
“It reminds me of London’s King’s Road in the 1970s. It’s fun and energized with a hip edge,” he said. “It’s not for the fashion shy.”
Tommy Hilfiger legwear is another new label that will bow this fall in department stores and specialty stores.
Russ Klein, president of Tommy Hilfiger legwear said, “Based on the fact that the legwear business has been difficult, we’ve done very well. Tommy’s name and the strength of the collection has allowed us to make good inroads. We know no one is looking for just another legwear line.”
Commenting on the general state of the legwear business, Klein said, “The conservatism that is exhibited often at retail in selection and presentation is concerning. It’s become too much of a pure numbers game. Merchandising skills would bring enthusiasm to the department.”
With a fall collection designed in collaboration with Herve Leroux, Wolford is optimistic about fall business. The company continues to offer seasonless offerings to play up versatility.
“There’s definitely more of an inkling for fashion items, but classic ones,” she said. “We’re keeping it classic, but offering more styles.”
Later this month, Wolford opens its 20th boutique — a site in Woodbury Common mall in Harriman, N.Y. There is also a non-company-owned store in New York and another in Montreal. Wolford is actively looking to open stores in Boston and Hawaii, the spokeswoman said.
On another note, consumers are taking a closer look at what celebrities are wearing and that affects their legwear purchases, she said.
To accommodate that trend, Wolford provided legwear for gift baskets that were given to award presenters at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. The company is also working more closely with stylists and such celebrities as Barbara Walters, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kim Basinger. Wolford outfitted Mariah Carey for her European tour this year and will do the same for her upcoming film debut in a musical that has not yet been named.
Dosty, a legwear label that bows this fall, is also now offering handknit woolen blend ponchos that double as hats and scarves. There are plans to branch out into handbags for spring, according Dorothy Shuford, owner.
“This helps build a base with stores,” she said. “The legwear business is kind of a difficult sell.”
Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin, the owner of Pennaco hosiery, noted that even catalogs, as well as magazines, are featuring legwear more prominently. Given that, Pennaco, which makes licensed Givenchy and Ellen Tracy legwear, expects sales to climb by a high-single-digit percentage or a low-double-digit percentage.
Casual fashion styles such as fishnet and colorful opaques are expected to become more important, Hochman said.
Donna Waxman, who joined Fogal of Switzerland last month as area manager for North and South America, said the brand is focusing more on its bodywear to build fall sales. She previously held posts at Alexandre de Paris, Natori and Nordstrom, and succeeds Lisa Kapp, who left the firm earlier this year.
“There has been a slight downturn in hosiery overall and when that happens, you need to find other areas where you are an expert,” she said. “That’s why we decided to go more into hosiery offering cashmere from Scotland and other interesting fabrications.”
Barbara Russillo, president of DML Marketing, the maker of Legale socks, said that she expects knee-highs to be a major new category for the junior market. The style is well suited for knee-length boots, a key fall style.
Department stores like Macy’s East, May Co. and Dillard’s are realizing they can use fashionable looks to lure junior customers back into their stores from other parts of shopping malls, Russillo said. Juniors are also showing interest in “soft and fuzzy” socks made of angora or Tactel.
But most importantly stores want to see results, she said.
“For the retail report card, the real issue is who is performing, whose product is turning and who delivers product margins at the end of the season.”
Jordan Lipson, president and ceo of American Essentials, is another believer in using luxurious fibers like cashmere blends and microfibers to attract new customers. The company is selling socks in the $15 to $30 range for fall — price points that seemed unattainable a few years ago, he said.
“We’re trying to diversify each category to give them more meaning,” Lipson said. “Most stores are not really defining or setting a status levels. It’s all about three-packs, multiple pricing and markdowns. There is still a consumer who wants to walk in and find premium products without looking at a sea of merchandise and a lot of noise.”
American Essentials’ fall orders are running 25 percent ahead of last fall, due in part to the interest in knee-highs and other novelty looks, he said.
Susan Reese, vice president of sales for Soxland International, noted that stores are programming patterned styles instead of selecting them from inventory.
In addition, many stores have changed their labeling to update their images.
“Stores are trying to have a little more of an upstairs attitude,” Reese said. “Even moderate stores are introducing fancy labels with some strange faux Italian name.”
Wayne Lederman, president of Leg Resource, the maker of licensed Adrienne Vittadinni, Andrea Jovine and Harve Benard legwear, said designers’ focus on legwear should help boost fall sales. Shorter skirt lengths should help enhance sales of fishnets.
“It looks like legwear will be very exciting for the next six months,” Lederman said. “From a fashion standpoint, there’s been a tremendous amount of excitement with more runway shows focusing on legwear.”
Private label legwear sales at Eddie Bauer, Casual Corner and other specialty stores continue to be strong for Leg Resource, he said. Private label sales account for about 65 percent of the legwear maker’s business.
On another note, Lederman expressed concerned, “One fear that I have is that legwear’s success relies on store traffic. I’m worried about the overall climate in retail. The effects of rising interest rates haven’t trickled down to the apparel consumer yet.”
E&E Hosiery, the manufacturer of Planet Sox, has developed a silver line aimed at holiday shoppers, according to Elie Levy, president. Made with Lurex, the group will be shown to buyers during next month’s market. It will be shipped to stores in October and will be available through February.
During the holiday season, E&E Hosiery will be set up to ship reorders within five days, since a test of the silver line was so well received last year, Levy said.

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