Senior Style: Launer Handbags

A venerable house has a spotlight on its pocketbooks.

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WWD Accessory issue 08/13/2012

Grandmothers aren’t generally known as style icons, but judging by the structured, prim and proper handbags that are popping up in a number of labels’ collections, a more mature aesthetic is having a moment.

This story first appeared in the August 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Indeed, the British handbag label Launer has seen its profits surge, thanks to the patronage of one octogenarian fashion plate — Queen Elizabeth II. The 60-year-old firm has been fashioning structured, ladylike handbags for members of the royal household since 1968, and was awarded a royal warrant a year later. Now, with the fashion world’s renewed appetite for the Queen’s style following last year’s royal wedding and this year’s Diamond Jubilee, Launer has seen its profits jump by 25 percent during 2012. “I think it started with the bag the Queen was carrying at Kate Middleton’s marriage….And it was suddenly decided she’s not unfashionable,” says Gerald Bodmer, the firm’s managing director, who acquired Launer in 1981.

At the wedding, watched by billions around the world, the Queen carried a beige Launer bag. “It’s very nice, because we’ve been going a long time, we make everything in the U.K. at our own factory and people are talking about [the brand] again,” says Bodmer.

The label’s appeal to a younger audience was sealed when Selfridges — known for buying into the cutting edge in British design — introduced Launer’s boxy Traviata handbags, the style the Queen carries, in shades from black to vibrant yellow and apple green, to its London store this summer, when it opened its Big British Shop to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. Sebastian Manes, the retailer’s director of women’s wear, says that sales “have exceeded our expectations. Both domestic and international customers — many of whom had never come across the label before and were delighted to learn about its royal connotations — seem to love the style,” says Manes. “[Particularly] the Traviata shape, which is so easy to associate with the Queen.” He adds that the label fits into a demand for an “elegant aesthetic in luxury accessories.”

The handbags are also carried at Fortnum & Mason in London. Bodmer notes, too, that the firm does brisk business via its Web site, with customers in Japan and the U.S.

Launer’s bags are all structured, crafted from materials including soft calf leather and patent leather and lined with suede.

“Everything we do has a level of structure….And that [involves] a lot of labor,” says Bodmer of the manufacturing process. All the handbags are made to order at the firm’s factory in England’s West Midlands, and it can take up to two weeks to make a single style.

Prices range from $665 for a clutch through to $1,714 for the Royale leather handbag. And while they’re not a steal, the handbags are crafted to last — a point that likely appeals to the notoriously thrifty Queen Elizabeth.

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