NEW YORK — Liebeskind Berlin was founded in 2004, a lousy year for the German economy. The company quickly learned how to rein in expenses as demand for more moderately priced handbags was building. Now Liebeskind, which operates 20 stores in Europe, is testing its formula — leather handbags, for the most part priced under $350 — Stateside with its first U.S. store, a 700-square-foot unit at 276 Lafayette Street in SoHo here. Chief executive officer Johannes Rellecke declined to provide a sales estimate for the new store, but said Liebeskind units typically have annual sales of at least $2,000 a square foot.“If this [store] works, we’d like to open two to three more stores in New York,” he said. “Then we can expand in the U.S. market.” Liebeskind wholesales its products to 260 doors worldwide, including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. Rellecke wants to increase that number to least 300 to 400 doors. “We should expand our wholesale business with existing clients and get 20 to 30 more stores,” he said. While a price tag of more than $1,000 is not unusual for a designer brand’s logo and brass hardware, Rellecke said, “Several brands in Europe take too much money for their product.” Liebeskind has lowered its costs by streamlining the production cycle. “We’re very direct,” Rellecke said. “We don’t have so many different stages of suppliers through the supply chain. We produce the leather. It’s very fast.”The company debates “how much margin to put on the production price,” Rellecke said. “We try to achieve a very favorable price point without compromising quality. If we have to lower the margins for a special material, we do that.”Liebeskind, which means “love child” in German, was founded by Rellecke and his twin brother Julian, the creative director, and college friend Semih Simsek, who’s responsible for production and logistics. “My brother didn’t study design,” Rellecke said. “He is a shoemaker and his way to create and design is very handcrafted. That experience helped him develop a different view of materials and the design process.“We saw a big gap for high quality full leather handbags, accessories and shoes, so we decided to make our own,” Rellecke said. “We see a lot of chances in this market. More and more women are tired of spending more than $400 on a leather handbag.” Liebeskind handbags have both rugged and refined qualities. The idiosyncrasies of the Lotta hobo’s embossed cow leather, $349, are highlighted with color, while the buttery soft leather Mia satchel, $345, has a beltlike strip across the front and turn lock closure.
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