NEW YORK — Citing an improved economic climate and salable trends, firms throughout the accessories sector are planning for a better year in 2004.

Fall sales have been above plan at many chains, leading some stores to increase their spending on accessories for spring, and a number of firms said they expect to notch double-digit sales growth in the year to come.

“We are expecting 2004 to be a very good year,” said Al Schatzberg, president of Ilana Wolf Inc., which sells wraps and capes and for spring is introducing a small collection of wrist bags. “This is the first time since Sept. 11 [2001] that people are really shopping again.”

Designer Rafe Totengco of fast-growing accessories brand Rafe New York, said: “The economy is starting to recover. In our own store, I’ve seen the numbers go up steadily since September. I think people have held back enough and they’re starting to go out again, dress up and have fun. In the recent spring market, we booked close to 40 percent more for spring over last season.”

Nonetheless, the $30 billion American accessories market has gotten extremely crowded. From Donna Karan to Jennifer Lopez, there are few brands in fashion these days that don’t have an accessories line of some sort, and more names continue to enter the field.

Next year will see a number of launches from big-name sportswear brands, many of which are expanding into new categories after having being bought by bigger companies. For example, Juicy Couture, now owned by Liz Claiborne Inc., is premiering an accessories component, which includes an extensive collection of handbags and jewelry. Nautica, now owned by VF Corp., has also been steadily building up its accessories offerings, and for spring it will introduce footwear at retail and a revamped handbag collection including both day and evening styles.

The upscale segment of the business is seeing an influx of accessories from American ready-to-wear and sportswear designers. While it used to be the European houses that dominated the world of high-end handbags and footwear, now U.S. designers such as Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors have become more serious about this segment, and the recent runway shows in New York were again filled with all manner of handbags and accessories.As part of its efforts to expand now that it’s owned by Sportswear Holdings Ltd., Michael Kors recently hired Donna Karan veteran Anna Bakst to oversee its accessories business, marking the first time it has had a full-time person devoted to this category.

In its core Michael Kors brand, the company has a small line of handbags done in-house, as well as shoes and eyewear produced under license, and it is looking to launch additional categories, said a company spokeswoman. In 2004, the company will unveil its new lower-priced collection, Michael, which is slated to include a range of better-priced accessories, including watches, belts and shoes.

“Both in the collection level and the Michael line, accessories are a key component of our growth strategy and something we are very focused on,” the spokeswoman said.

Five-year-old American luxury accessories firm Lambertson Truex is looking to expand its business internationally in 2004, said co-founder John Truex. It has just started selling in stores in Asia and Europe, and the firm feels it has potential to grow its business overseas, especially in Japan. While Lambertson Truex is best known for its handbags and footwear, it now carries a range of products including belts and small leather goods. Gloves will be a big focus heading into the second part of 2004, said Truex.

“We feel really positive for 2004,” he added. “But there are a lot of players out there. Those that succeed are those that take it seriously and have their own vision and their own look.”

In the mid- and lower-priced segments of the business, a number of established companies are expanding into new product segments for 2004 as a way to grow their business and stand out in the crowded pack.

The founders of The Sak brand are rolling out a handbag line under the name Elliott Lucca, while scarf company Echo has unveiled its first collection of handbags. The bridal area is getting more attention, with firms such as Judith Jack, Kate Spade and Givenchy all introducing accessories designed for weddings.

Midpriced accessories firm Dooney & Bourke is focusing more on the teen market for 2004, following the success of its It bags, which were created for spring 2003 with the help of teenage consumers. Over the last few years, the company has sought to update its product offerings and carry more fashion-forward and “fun” looks, said Stephen Grisanti, Dooney & Bourke’s director of retail. The It bag is part of its efforts to reach out to a wider audience, he noted.On the retail front, specialty chains such as Club Monaco and Gap are increasing their accessories offerings this year. Evelyn Gorman, owner of the Mix boutique in Houston, which carries a range of designer apparel and accessories, said she expects handbags and shoes to be especially strong next year. Gorman has recently opened a shoe salon featuring brands such as Paul Smith and Narciso Rodriguez, and her handbag selection now includes brands such as Balenciaga, Chloé, Lambertson Truex, Lanvin and Kajsa.

“We are selling more handbags than we ever have before,” she noted. “We are going deeper with brands we have and giving more room to the category.”

Vintage costume jewelry from designers such as Kenneth Jay Lane has also been a top seller at her store, Gorman said.

“Spring is going to be a memorable one for retailers in terms of sales,” she said. “The spring collections were upbeat and bright. Despite all the troubles in the world, people are beginning to feel hopeful.”

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