Socks. Those things that do a disappearing act at the laundromat. Those things your husband tosses on the floor and never puts in the hamper. Who invented them, anyway?
Well, it wasn't E.G. Smith. It happened long before his time.
According to fashion historians, socks were invented many centuries ago by someone how was sick of being stuck by thorns and scratched by rocks. This fellow started binding or wrapping his feet and legs for protection. The idea caught on.
By the 11th Century, curde leg bindings had been improved and perfected and truned into a type of stocking for men to wear with their knee-length breaches. (These stockings were known as "chausses" or hose, probable derived from the old english term, "hosa.")
Time marched on. Heavy homespun woolen stockings became fashion favorites -- especially with American colonists. The 19th Century saw the advent of numerous knitting mills and many more sock styles. And when the 20th Centrur dawned, the hosiery industry in this country and throughout the world was really flourishing.
Until the '50s, patterns and colors were fairly easy to find. Then black and navy virtually took over the menswear market. Almost every man's feet looked the same. It was hard to get a kick out of footwear that was so drab, so boring. Clearly the time was right for somebody to jazz up the scene.
Enter E.G. Smith, the sock designer who takes great pleasure in creating colorful "little sweaters for the feet." Smith, recently named Cutty Sark Outstanding Accessories Designer, gave footwear a whole new look and continues to provide creative hosiery options for the adventuresome. Thanks to him, socks have become a fun way to make a fashion statement without spending a fortune. And to think he almost went into law...
"For generations may family had been in the sock business," Smith says as he sits in his wildly-decorated office on 28th Street in Manhattan. Disembodied legs and feet decorate the place, as does a zebra rug and artwork by his 85-year old grandmother.
"The last thing on earth I wanted to do was follow in thier footsteps. So, I tried law and it bored me to death. There was no room for creativity."
Smith went searching for a new direction. And lo and behold, it brought him full circle, right back to the family profession!
"There was this woolen hunting sock being put out by one of the mills my father did business with," he recalls. "Nobody knew what to do with it ...they felt it was too fashion-forward for the mass market. But I thought it just might work with certain customers and certain stores. I asked them to give it to me and let me try."
Gambling his $4,000 savings, the young man struck out on his own. He perfected the design; talked the mills into producing the sock in cotton, not wool, so that it would be a seasonless style. He manufactured it in lots of fan and fanciful colors. The slouch sock meant to fall down was born.
To the surprise of the store buyers he finally sold on the concept, no markdowns were ever necessary. Customers looking for something a little different in hosiery snapped the sock right up.
E.G. Smith was off and running -- and he hasn't stoppped since.
Some of his latest creations included the metallic dress sock (it may set off security systems at some airports); the ying yang (these socks, one in black, one in white, are billed as good karma for your feet); the new tie dye (proceeds from this hosiery go to AIDS research); the election boot sock (in patriotic red white and blue). There's a new women's line that includeds colorful tights; a collection for kids. Underwear for the whole family may be next.
No small part of Smith's success can be attributed to his clever advertising campaign, his ability to make people smile and his flamboyant personality. He tosses "sock-tail" parties and entertains store buyers by grabbing the mike and singing, "I Heard It By the Sockvine." He also routinely stages some of the most clever fashion shows in the apparel business. (His grandmother once served as a model and came down the runway in a sweater mad completely of socks.)
Such showmanship never fails to put smiles on the faces in the audience. And that's the goal.
"My business is selling optimism -- not just socks," the designer explains.