Game On: Handbag Firms Ramp Up Moves

From store openings and new lines to creating their own social networking sites, handbag firms are on the move.

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From store openings and new lines to creating their own social networking sites, handbag firms are on the move.

This story first appeared in the July 27, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD: Befitting its new Beverly Hills retail home, Judith Leiber has had some work done — and gave the big reveal this month with the opening of a 2,800-square-foot flagship on Rodeo Drive.

The accessories firm’s store is the result of a brand review started after Schottenstein Stores Corp. acquired a majority stake last year. Spearheaded by Kramer Design Group, the store design is intended to evoke whimsical sophistication to appeal to longtime Judith Leiber fans and first-timers.

The white Thassos marble facade with hammered stainless steel and polished chrome-framed windows leads to a light-filled gray front room that showcases opening-price-point accessories, including casual evening and day items and costume jewelry, which is new for the company. The circular Crystal Room, which is inspired by the brand’s Chocolate Bar clutch, contains faceted crystal fixtures and showcases Judith Leiber’s staple minaudières.

Prices start at $195 for costume jewelry pieces and bags and go up to $5,295 for an elaborate crystal or exotic skin style.

“You have to stay true to what the heritage of the brand is and also figure out how to move it forward,” said Mary Gleason, Judith Leiber’s president, who estimated the store would generate $4 million to $6 million in first-year sales.

“We have always had a relationship with Hollywood and the red carpet, but we never had a presence here that identified the brand.” The look of the Beverly Hills stores will possibly lend itself to the firm’s other full-price U.S. stores, which are located in New York; Costa Mesa, Calif., and Las Vegas.

— Rachel Brown

BAG OF FUN: The Kensiegirl girl will soon be outfitted from head to toe.

The teen apparel brand, owned and operated by Liz Claiborne Inc., is signing a licensing deal with Trebbiano to design and manufacture handbags under the Kensiegirl brand name. The collection will feature contemporary styles for young women ages 14 to 24 and will hit department stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico for spring. Prices will wholesale from $21 to $38. Jewelry also will be an addition to the licensing deal.

“Providing a handbag and jewelry offering to our Kensiegirl consumer is a natural next step as we continue to grow in the contemporary sector,” said Eric Karls, president and chief executive officer at Kensiegirl.

— Caroline Tell

MADE IN MILANO: With its 27 in-house artisans, 20,000 paper patterns tucked away in the attic and 6,000 crocodile hides in 135 colors among other precious and exotic materials in a dizzying variety carefully labeled and stocked away, Leu Locati is a Milanese gem.

“We chose to stay in Milan to offer a service to our clients and designers — we were born here and we must remain here,” said chairman and owner Paolo Amato of the effort to keep the firm’s headquarters in central Milan, known to be more expensive than other cities and manufacturing hubs.

Centralizing production and quality control also helps Amato make sure each piece is up to the standards he has set for the company. Leu Locati, founded in 1908, produces high-end handbags for brands such as Armani Privé, Chanel and Manolo Blahnik and, more recently, has added AG Limited Editions, designed by Gucci heir Alessandra Gucci. At the same time, Amato continues to expand the Locati brand, which counts about 100 points of sale around the world, from Wilson & Dean in San Francisco to a corner at Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi.

From embroidered needlepoint wrist bags to evening clutches embellished with jewels and stones or sophisticated crocodile totes, the company has built its reputation on its exclusive hides, research, timeless designs and traditional Italian craftsmanship. The firm produces 2,500 to 4,000 pieces a year. The Locati brand accounts for 60 percent of sales, which last year totaled 3 million euros, or $4.4 million at average exchange rate.

— Luisa Zargani

REACHING OUT: Rebecca Minkoff has never been shy about dipping her toe into new forms of social media. When she launched her namesake handbag firm in 2005, the San Diego native, who now resides in New York, made it a point to be accessible to her clients and fans. She prides herself on being reachable to her customers by e-mail and was an early designer entrant into the world of Facebook.

Today, the accessories and apparel designer, whose following includes the likes of Agyness Deyn, Rachel Bilson and Sarah Jessica Parker, launched Minkette.com, a social networking site related to all things Rebecca Minkoff. On the site guests can make their own profiles and read blogs by the designer and guest bloggers such as actress Chloe Parker.

People can custom-order bags, which come in a minimum order of 12 and take six weeks to produce.

“Our connection to the consumer has really driven the brand,” said Minkoff, who said women often have gotten a group of 12 together to order a bag in a specific color that isn’t in the collection at a given time. “We want to have a lifestyle brand as we get into additional product categories.”

— Sophia Chabbott


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