Devi Kroell Aims for Lifestyle Status

Luxe accessories firm Devi Kroell will open its first store on Madison Ave. in Manhattan, followed by a unit in Las Vegas at the Forum Shops.

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NEW YORK — Devi Kroell’s reach is extending beyond exotics.

This story first appeared in the September 14, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Making her third ready-to-wear and accessories presentation today, the Austrian-born, New York-based designer is working to become the luxury lifestyle brand she envisioned when she launched an eponymous exotic skins-based accessories collection five years ago.

“My approach from the beginning was to have a lifestyle brand,” Kroell said at her Fifth Avenue headquarters, where 25 employees scurried around draping mannequins, sewing and unpacking garments and accessories for the spring presentation at Cedar Lake on West 26th Street. “I never wanted to be put in that exotic drawer. I want to be a household name.”

Next month, the brand will open its first store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, followed soon by a unit in Las Vegas at the Forum Shops at Caesars. There are also plans for boutiques in Houston and Chicago, as well as Florida and California, in addition to a second New York address within the next two years. Kroell launched an East Hampton, N.Y., shop in 2006.

Globally, she wants to open stores in Europe and in Russia, as well as in Asian locations such as Shanghai and Macau, and in the Middle East. The company has gone from two collections a year to four, with the addition of cruise and pre-fall for all product categories. Spring will also mark the launch of a collection of leather handbags.

Kroell’s expansion comes as the luxury business has been hard hit by the recession, but the designer contends consumers are still looking for high fashion and top quality.

Kroell started her label in 2004 centered on sculptural handbags steeped in exotic skins. She was a pioneer in using costly and rare skins such as python, ostrich and alligator with a dash of insouciance. Some of Kroell’s most notable styles include an oversize gilded python, oversize hobo and over-the-knee flat boots in the same material.

Ranging in retail price from $490 to $1,490, the leather bags are significantly less expensive than the skin bags, but Kroell said the decision to incorporate leather was not solely because of price. Exotic bags range from $1,490 to $3,790 and cost as much as $20,000 for a large alligator tote.

She is also expanding into new categories such as scarves, fashion jewelry, belts and sunglasses, establishing a partnership with Luxottica on creating a limited edition frame.

To help implement the new strategies, Kroell in July hired Tony DiMasso, former chief operating officer of Jimmy Choo, as president and chief operating officer, a new post. In addition, the staff will grow 20 to 30 percent in operational units areas such as sales, systems, planning and accounting.

On the retail front, the brand’s 3,000-square-foot Manhattan flagship at 717 Madison Avenue is austere and luxurious at the same time, with fixtures of statuary bronze and aged oak.

“The store is a window to my world,” Kroell said. “It’s a dream come true.”

DiMasso estimated the flagship would generate $6 million in retail sales in the first 12 months, and after that it’s anticipated the store will draw $9 million to $10 million annually. The flagship will carry Kroell’s complete collection, as well as some exclusives such as an alligator luggage line.

Rtw retails from $390 to $2,690, jewelry from $490 to $1,490 and small leather goods sell from $90 to $390. The store will also carry the new leather bag collection.

“A lot of customers have asked me for leather pieces,” Kroell said of the line, which includes a range of supple Italian made pleated leather satchels with simple polished gold hardware in citron and aqua. There are also neutral colors of blush, white and beige.

Kroell’s spring collection contains a multitude of reference points — from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” to Michael Jackson. Her’s first jewelry collection includes hand-appliquéd and beaded gauntlets inspired by Jackson, as well as silver-trimmed booties on a skyscraping heel. The more jovial, colorful side of the collection includes a corset belt worn on the hip in fuchsia, yellow and purple leather, and a leopard-print patent leather sandal whimsically sprinkled with glitter.

The apparel has a relaxed touch, with luxe details such as Lesage embroidery and beading and feather details.

Kroell’s line is wholesaled to Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Harvey Nichols in London, Dubai and Hong Kong. She also has an e-commerce platform on her Web site, devikroell.com.

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