with contributions from Alicia LeBlanc
 on July 22, 2009

PARIS — Akris, the Swiss specialist in luxury ready-to-wear, is about to enter the accessories arena, armed with the know-how of a small but elite German handbag maker.

Akris has acquired 100 percent of Comtesse, a brand favored by international royals and prized for its expertise with handwoven horsehair. WWD first reported Akris had its eye on the firm Dec. 1.

“We think the know-how factor is very important,” Akris president Peter Kriemler said in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “We have been aware that it has to be a completely different profile of product.”

Akris acquired Comtesse, founded in 1929, from German leather goods group EganaGoldpfeil, which went into Chapter 11 last year. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Kriemler said he plans to preserve a small Comtesse business, concentrated in Asia, but apply the expertise of its factory, located in the Frankfurt area, and some 30 skilled employees to Akris-branded products.

Spanning approximately 50 stockkeeping units in handbags, plus small leather goods and belts, the first collection will be unveiled on the runway at the spring-summer 2010 Akris show here in October.

Kriemler said his brother Albert — who has brought a forward-thinking, architectural edge to a brand famed for its deluxe double-face apparel — would oversee the accessories design team. In tandem with the acquisition, Akris recruited a handbag designer trained in Italy, whose identity will not be disclosed.

With more than 80 years of history making clothing in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, Akris approached the crowded accessories market cautiously. Peter Kriemler said the company devoted about three years of study to the category, ruling out licensing or production collaborations to pursue its goal of a “completely vertical organization.”

Still, Akris expects its accessories will reach a broader swath of customers, especially in Asia, where women spend more on that product category than on apparel.

Kriemler said Akris handbags would retail from about $1,500 to $6,000, putting them in the same price league as Hermès, Chanel and Bottega Veneta. He assured that Albert would bring a unique design sensibility to the category, with a focus on functionality and unique, haute materials.

“It will not be a bag with 20 pockets and a thousand metal pieces hanging off it,” he said.

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