By and  on June 8, 2007

PARIS — Say Cartier, and most likely expensive diamonds or watches will be the first things that spring to people's minds. But if Bernard Fornas, president of Cartier International, has his way, women also will start to crave handbags when they hear the name.

Cartier is making a serious effort to ramp up its sales in the high-margin category with the launch of a new fashion-forward bag called Marcello. It will be available in Cartier stores worldwide in mid-June and is the first major bag launch for the Richemont-owned house in years.

"Cartier was strong in leather goods in the 1980s," said Fornas in an interview in his office here. "In the 1990s, we lost some of that ground. Our focus turned to other categories."

Many people would be hard-pressed to conjure an image of a memorable Cartier bag, even though the brand has more than its fair share of other iconic products, from the Love bracelet to Tank watches.

Marcello, developed by an in-house accessories team led by Marlin Yuson, a former Calvin Klein designer, is meant to reverse that situation. It will come in three sizes — small, medium and large — and will be decorated with Cartier's double C insignia on one side. Its shape is somewhat square at the base, but curves into a triangle at the edges and is finished with a flying buttress-like detail at the top.

"It's a traditional bag with an attitude," said Fornas. "It's a bag that can be worn by trendy women around the world, as well. We wanted this bag to be a signature."

Cartier traditionally has avoided "fashionable" details in handbags, adopting a more ladylike, timeless approach. Marcello is a departure in that it will come in seasonal colors and treatments. The introductory delivery, for example, will be offered in tan, midnight blue, pink and even a zebra ponyskin.

Prices will range from 750 euros, or $1,005, for a basic small bag to 1,200 euros, or $1,600, and up for a large bag, depending on details and materials. Custom-made bags also will be available, starting at around 1,500 euros, or $2,010, and going higher depending on treatments, which could include hardware in gold or platinum.Bespoke kits, which Yuson likened to paper-doll sets with cutouts of leather and different hardware options from which customers can build their own bags, have been dispatched to all of Cartier's 250 shops around the world.

"Cartier is number one in bespoke jewelry. We have bespoke fragrances. We do custom watches," said Fornas. "We thought we should be able to do custom-made bags, too. We want to be able to create a woman's dream bag."

Fornas declined to provide sales targets for the bag. And he did not say how much of Cartier's total business was generated by leather goods. Nonetheless, he said the bag's introduction marked a "significant" effort to grow a business with "incredible potential."

"We want to sell hundreds of thousands of these bags," he said.

Fornas did not enumerate media plans, but he said a robust advertising campaign would begin in July in most major fashion publications in the U.S., and this month in Japan. In September, a worldwide media rollout will begin.

Young French writer Amanda Sthers and budding singer Sophie Auster, the daughter of writer Paul Auster, were photographed wearing the bags for material that will be disturbed to the press.

Cartier's first podcast, with Vogue, which includes a visit to the factory in Florence where the bags are produced, will go live later this month.

In celebration of its second annual Love Day today, Cartier has commissioned multimedia expert John Maeda to create love.cartier.com, a Web site dedicated to love. The site bows today and will be active through Love Day's third anniversary next year.

On the site, eight artists answer the question, "How far would you go for love?" The Love Gallery features their responses. Contemporary artists Flavia Da Rin, Zoe Mendelson and Yako Takeyama express their visions of love in all forms ­— photography, drawings, video — and one artist even expresses his idea of love in a blog format. Also appearing on the site are 12 interactive short films directed by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan.

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