By  on August 9, 2010

NEW YORK — Accessories vendors and retailers attending trade shows here last week said navigating through still treacherous economic conditions has forced them to seek ways to reduce costs yet offer product that delivers innovation and value.

Industry representatives at JA, Accessorie Circuit and AccessoriesTheShow expressed hope that the recession had passed, despite warning signs suggesting an economic slowdown in the second half of the year.

Vendors looking to cut costs used mixed metals or non-metal materials and turned to smaller sizing, among other strategies, in an effort to lessen the impact of rising raw materials prices.

With gold continuing to hover at $1,200 an ounce, New York-based Leslie Greene jewelry has steered away from its primarily gold-based collection to embrace alternative metals.

“Leslie created a sterling and diamond collection…she felt that it was an excellent way to represent her creative designs while still maintaining the allure of luxury,” said Jessica Zacharias, a sales rep for the firm, at JA’s New York Summer Show.

Statement jewelry in mixed mediums and neutral, classic handbag silhouettes were standouts, as companies highlighted so-called investment pieces in an effort to appeal to consumers’ desires for versatile style at the right price.

Among the jewelry trends were big earrings and large, prominent necklaces, said Susan Testaccio of Susan and Co. showrooms in Manhattan. “Customers at every level are starting to understand the statement necklace…it makes an outfit,” she said.

Jennifer Arago, designer for the David Aubrey jewelry line, said of the statement necklace and big earrings trend at Accessorie Circuit: “I think I can attribute this to the economy. Buyers are looking to get more ‘bang for your buck,’ so pieces with more substance are selling well. Equally priced pieces that are small and simple aren’t as eye-catching and won’t attract the impulse buys.”

Larry Ortiz, buyer for N boutique in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, sounded a similar theme, citing a desire for “very bold jewelry, chunky, with lots of geometric shapes.” He bought necklaces and bracelets from Arlene Geller, Alexis Bittar and Shauna Neely, ranging from $45 to $600 retail.

Bold necklaces and bracelets were popular sellers with independent jewelry vendor DANNIJO. “Our signature has always been really focused on strong statement necklaces and cuffs.… They can really make an outfit, even a simple T-shirt,” designer Jodie Snyder said.

Responding to the high gold prices, jewelry designers incorporated new materials into their designs.

Atelier Minyon, a Turkish jewelry company, offered a signature line that mixes metals to create a similar effect at a lower price point of $500 retail. Marketing rep Erin O’Sullivan said, “By incorporating the silver, it brings the prices down a lot — but the lines can still be considered fine to most people, as it is mixed always with a high-karat gold and usually rubies, diamonds [and] sapphires.”

Jewelry designer Rebecca Allen said the cost of raw materials “hasn’t affected our buyers or our prices,” but conceded the best-selling items were lace necklaces that retail for $34 and include little metal. “We use vintage lace and vintage stones or glass beads to transform into modern whimsical jewelry pieces. Buyers are looking for something new to set their shop apart from the rest.”

In handbags, Barry S. Kramer, president of Koret, a New York-based company, said raw materials costs have “affected the entire market — no one is excluded. The key is smaller sizing on bags, to bring down the retail price.” He added: “We are on the road to recovery…. There’s a sense of hope for the future.”

Another New York-based handbag company, Magnes Sisters, said its envelope-shaped cross-body bag, among the firm’s smallest silhouettes, was selling best. Designer Tamar Magnes attributed its popularity to the fact that in this economy, “people aren’t going to splurge.” The bag retails at a lower price point, $98, than the majority of the line.

Lauren Merkin sales representative Jamie Burns said at Accessorie Circuit that she saw a trend in classic silhouettes and colors. “Neutrals and raffia, with a lot of neutral tones [are popular]. There haven’t been a lot of orders for pop colors…. We saw a lot of clean silhouettes and neutral palettes.”

The brand’s collaboration with jewelry designer Michelle Fantaci, with an average retail price point of $320 and a small, simple shape, was selling well. “Customers are looking for timeless pieces right now,” Burns said. “They are more willing to invest in styles they can carry for years to come.”

Overall, the market was a positive indicator, said jeweler Rebecca Allen. “This is probably the first season that we really noticed an upswing in the economy. There seemed to be more buyers eager to purchase items for their shop if the price is right and they feel they can sell the piece.”

Mary Louise Van Der Wilden, owner of Le Paillon, a Rumson, N.J., boutique, attended both AccessoriesTheShow and Accessorie Circuit and was skeptical about the recovery. “There’s still caution, definitely…. There’s a little more optimism this year, but people are definitely still being cautious.”

Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., which produces AccessoriesTheShow, said attendance was up 4.2 percent year-over-year. Accessorie Circuit and JA do not cite attendance figures.

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