By  on May 12, 2008

NEW YORK — Vendors at the Accessorie Circuit and AccessoriesTheShow exhibitions here last week had a strategy for the weakened U.S. economy — keep it cheap and chic.

Brand managers said that lower-priced items were getting a positive response, especially if they are on-trend, and that they might even be benefiting from consumers trading down.

Pamela Azaria, managing partner of Patooties, a Birmingham, Mich.-based firm that carries two Israeli-based jewelry brands, Hely Designs and Sea Smadar Eliasaf, said she is feeling pressure to keep prices down.

"We lowered prices just to feel like we could sell," Azaria said. "We're trying to appeal to a big price range. People are not buying high-end things. The economy is telling us if it's not priced right, it's not going to sell. We're trying to hold onto the business."

Brad Frey, president at showroom DP Accessories, which carries fashion jewelry brands such as Susan Hanover, Sparkling Sage and Leslie Daniels, said, "Our business is up almost 20 percent over last year. Stores are careful and are focused on making the right choices with the right product. And our jewelry ranges from $10 wholesale to $300. At that level, the business is on fire."

Designer Alexis Bittar also noted that his lower-priced pieces are doing well. He added more stockkeeping units to his entry-level, $100-to-$250 price range.

"We are paying much more attention to the mid- to lower-priced pieces," Bittar said. "That is where it's still about gift-giving and about impulse. So we are definitely focusing on that."

Bittar said his statement and costume pieces referencing the Thirties and Forties were also strong.

"People are price-conscious, but if you can build an identity and price it well and it stands out, it will do well," Bittar said. "Our sales are up from last year. We saw all of our major accounts and their jewelry buys are way up."

Handbag brand Sondra Roberts also focused on novelty pieces to attract retailers and is intent on keeping prices diversified.

"Our sales are way up," said Robert Camche, company president. "We have such a broad base of customers and it diversifies you, so you're not just in one sector. We don't rely solely on department stores for our business. We keep things varied."Tesa Totengco, vice president and sales director of accessories firm Rafe, reported that buyers were gravitating toward the more novel bags in various colors.

"With the economy the way it is, we must offer our consumer something that wows her," Totengco said.

However, some brands said they were not sensing that pressure. Bodhi's new handbag collection — featuring leather satchels and clutches in eye-popping violets and yellows — wholesales from $120 to $1,800 for exotics.

"We are not facing any challenges right now," said creative director Joseph Janus, who said he was pleased by the response to the first season. "We are giving retailers something different to get behind."

As for legwear, John Flynn, vice president of sales for Levante USA reported that the brand was having its best show.

"In a difficult economy, our sales go up substantially," Flynn said. "Legwear is an easy way to update a wardrobe without having to buy a new garment."

Flynn cited the firm's Me Moi cashmere blend tight and button leggings as top sellers. Levante's patterned hose and jeweled button leggings are also moving at retail.

Socks firm ILux reported robust business. Shopping at ILux's booth, Temah DeFranco, manager and buyer for Shoe Mine in Brooklyn, said legwear sales were doing well.

"I'm looking for really good functional items with a little bit of fashion," DeFranco said. "I love heather grays as a nice alternative to black and anything with a little color. Legwear and socks are a great way for people to experiment with color and play around a bit."

In the area of key trends, Lee Angel and Suzanne Kalan got positive response to elaborate neck pieces in bright colors. A crowd gathered around accessories firm Dogeared's eco-friendly canvas totes that wholesale for $10 to $12.50.

Hair accessories were also prevalent at Colette Malouf, Susan Daniels and Joomi NYC. Joomi featured herringbone hair clips and crystallized headbands.

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