By  on January 24, 2005

NEW YORK — For the uberhip, owning an iPod is so 2004. What’s hot now is dressing up the little darlings.Accessorizing an iPod in a fashionable, customized (and protective) case wraps the inherent prestige of owning Apple’s portable music player in an entirely different layer of coolness, and this  has engendered a cottage industry.“The sheer number of fashion accessory companies that have developed products that are specific iPod cases is just stunning,” said Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief of, an independent Web site devoted to the iPod community. Horwitz, who has reviewed roughly 200 iPod cases for the Web site, estimates that there are currently 40 to 50 companies making cases for iPods, with each offering from two to 15 variations.Since 2001, Apple Computer has sold 10 million iPods. Earlier this month, the computer maker said first-quarter iPod sales surged 525 percent.The momentous popularity of the iPod allows retailers, designers and suppliers who offer unique iPod cases to reap several benefits, such as garnering stronger margins on a full-priced accessory, bolstering its brand and solidifying its fashion credibility.Case designs are currently available from fashion houses such as Gucci Group, Chanel, Burberry, Kate Spade, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. There’s also the unforgettable personal version from Karl Lagerfeld, which holds multiple iPods. A similar version of that iPod suitcase is available from Fendi for $1,500.Consumers have such a selection of iPod cases that there is “one for everyone out there,” said Horwitz. One of the more unique cases come from start-up designer Catherine Hopkinson, who makes $25- $30 iPod “cozies.” For Hopkinson, who rediscovered a love of sewing this past summer, making a case for her iPod was a natural evolution. “I’ve been sewing for a while,” she said in an interview. “Then I got an iPod, so I figured it needed clothes, too.”The material for Hopkinson’s one-of-a-kind, customizable cozies are usually made of recycled jeans and other thrown-away apparel. Hopkinson, who is a copy editor by trade, launched the Web site this past November to sell her iPod cozies, as well as cuff bracelets and shirts. Business has been better than expected, she said.Meanwhile, Apple’s announcement on Jan. 11 at the MacWorld Expo of its latest music player, the ultraslim and highly affordable iPod Shuffle, brings a new era to the dash for iPod accessories. Horwitz, who attended the event in San Francisco, said that besides the orange-accented sport case already available from Apple, there are only two iPod Shuffle case prototypes in the works from other companies.Horwitz foresees the market for iPod Shuffle cases to be just as robust as it has been in the last year for iPod and iPod Mini cases. He expects to see “stripped-down versions” of existing case designs for the Shuffle.Another prospective accessory market for the iPod Shuffle is jewelry. Horwitz pointed to the Web site, which has created beaded add-ons, such as freshwater pearls, that can be directly attached to the Shuffle and its existing lanyard-like band, which users can put around their necks as a hands-free option to carry the device.

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