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Trendy Accessories: Rent Controlled

Avelle.com allows customers to rent the trendiest accessories without emptying their wallets.

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Special Issue
WWD A issue 10/20/2008

Fast fashion is a common term these days, but how about temporal fashion, as in rent-a-trend?

This story first appeared in the October 20, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Avelle.com is banking that, with the dour economic climate, luxury fashion rental could become a viable new market.

Avelle.com is the new name for Web site BagBorroworSteal.com, the four-year-old online luxury rental retailer. The firm’s executives renamed the site last month and believe the new moniker is more luxurious and European-sounding.

The company, which started renting designer bags by the likes of Gucci, Prada, Coach and Chanel, will also expand into additional accessories categories and some apparel starting this month.

“We have already expanded beyond handbags into vintage, jewelry and sunglasses, and our members are asking for even more,” says Avelle.com chief executive officer Michael Smith. “Avelle more accurately reflects who we are as we expand our offering significantly beyond our handbag beginnings.”

The company’s client base has grown to over one million people, and there are more than 4,000 styles available on the site. In general, weekly rental prices are approximately 10 percent of the retail price of an item, so say a $440 Botkier bag will rent for about $44 per week. The firm purchases some stock directly from designers, as well as authorized retailers.

After its initial offering of handbags the company expanded to include fine and  costume jewelry and sunglasses, and will start offering watches for rent this month from the likes of Charriol and Chanel. The firm is also considering eveningwear and shoes, although those would be more challenging sectors considering sizing issues and wear and tear.

The company plans to extend its reach internationally into Kuwait and China.

“If you look worldwide, there are a number of companies that have cropped up in Europe [with the same concept],” says Smith. “We believe that this is a universal concept. There are [only] a few women who will buy everything they want. The [others] see this as a smarter way to wear luxury.”

The company even got a shout-out in one of the most fashion-drenched movies in recent memory, “Sex and The City: The Movie.” In the film, Carrie Bradshaw’s assistant, played by Jennifer Hudson, carries an array of luxe designer bags and ultimately confesses that she rents them from Bag, Borrow or Steal.

The firm has strict quality controls. Bags are inspected going out and then again when they come in. Repair work is employed when needed and bags are sold or disposed of when they are no longer up to snuff. Smith contends that renters are very careful with the product and that bags typically arrive back in pristine condition.

“We’re dealing with a very discerning woman,” says Smith of the brand’s clients. “She is highly educated, affluent and sophisticated. We’re treating her in the way she needs to be treated. We want customers to feel that every product they get feels like new.”

Andrew Jassin, managing director of consulting firm Jassin-O’Rourke Group LLC, has found that people have become familiar with luxury goods, whether or not their wallets allow for them. “What we’re finding now is that people in the luxury mode want to wear the hottest dresses and shoes and bags, but can’t afford it,” says Jassin. “It’s a compelling and timely story, especially given the state of the economy.”

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