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Selling pantyhose in the U.S. for between $25 and $60 a pair requires creating an "emotional world" around the product, says Andreas Meinrad, managing director of Wolford America.

That environment helps women view pantyhose as a luxury good, rather than a utility item.

It's also boosted revenues for the U.S. arm of Wolford, an Austrian pantyhose marketer. Sales were about $12 million in the fiscal year ending April 30, up about 40% from the previous fiscal year.

"If it's utility, they're not going to pay for it," says Mr. Meinrad, 29, whose duties include marketing.

Thus came an image communicating that "it's not just hosiery."

Although Wolford uses little traditional advertising, it hasn't skimped on its retail presence. Sexually charged b&w photos, which use sadomasochistic imagery of models wearing the product and shot by famed photographer Helmut Newton, grace the packaging.

To help maintain its image, Wolford has revised its distribution. It's opened a dozen U.S. retail outlets, with another 10 to 12 scheduled to open before year-end, and pared its retailer roster to high-end department stores such as Saks

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