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Accessorize This

WWD peers into the crystal ball of fashion and offers up a trio of trends hitting the accessories market this spring.<br><br><br><br>Spring accessories hold the promise of a swift fix for shoppers worried about economic uncertainty. New bags, belts...

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HIGH FASHION HANDBAGS’s caramel glazed perforated leather hobo bag at Iris T.

DARNELL MCCOWN

WWD peers into the crystal ball of fashion and offers up a trio of trends hitting the accessories market this spring.

Spring accessories hold the promise of a swift fix for shoppers worried about economic uncertainty. New bags, belts and jewelry can update many of last spring’s key looks without ransacking the wallet.

“The customer is responding to recession merchandise, feel-good products that are not price-prohibitive and put a smile on their faces,’’ said Deborah Rudinsky, merchandise manager for accessories and intimate apparel at The Doneger Group, a buying office and trend forecaster in New York. “We sell want, not need.”

“Customers want accessories at prices that don’t make them feel guilty,’’ agreed Lucy Wallace Eustice, co-owner and co-designer of MZ Wallace handbags in New York.

Here, a look at what’s on tap for spring:

Feminine Wiles

Possibly as a rebellion against the Bohemian look, many designers are going the opposite direction — toward pretty classics the customer is familiar with and feels good about already.

Gold weighs in.

Though retailers and consumers have had a long love affair with silver, designers and forecasters alike sensed a move toward gold as a more ladylike metal.

Suzi Roher combines leathers with gold metal chains and pearls, while Streets Ahead belts feature the element in all forms — burnished, antiqued, brushed, patinated, and etched.

Florals bloom everywhere.

Echo Design Group, a New York accessories company, offers a group nicknamed “Flower Girls,” which includes peasant- and prairie-influenced scarves and headwraps, including calico and wallpaper patterns and floral appliqués and prints.

Leatherock has embossed its belts with floral patterns, while Tiziana leather bags are punctured with flowers, making the motif a decorative relief.

Similarly, the body of a hot MZ Wallace bag is a floral-printed cotton, unsweetened by heavy brown saddle-leather trim and straps and a bone-horn toggle closure.

“It looks like more upholstery, not girly or identifiable,” said Eustice. “I’m not a floral person and I wear that bag.”

Known for its preppy prints, Buzz by Jane Fox handbags feature a bamboo and bikini pattern, pink and red florals, and green and blue polkadots.

“We’re moving toward designing all of our own prints because our customer wants something special,” said Jane Schoenborn, the line’s owner and designer.

“If it’s a cute fabric, you may find it other places in the market. This way we can be completely unique without raising price.”

Matching more than mixing. Originally known only for his chapeaus, New York-based handbag and hat firm Eric Javits now does half his business with handbags as customers coordinate their headwear with their totes. Similarly, Lulu Guiness offers matching hats for almost all of its bags.

“Hats are fashion for young women because they never wore hats, and sun protection for the 40-plus crowd,” said Lori Veith’s Melton.

Buzz by Jane Fox is adding pieces like wallets, cell phone cases, and makeup bags to its collection for spring, as it tries to evolve into a lifestyle label with its own branded fabrics.

“We’re going to put our fabric on anything we can,” said Schoenborn.

THE BUZZ

“Designers are taking elements of jewelry and putting it on belts. Belts have become jewelry at the waist,” said The Doneger Group’s Rudinsky.

“Eric [Javits’] accessories are understandable, wearable — and saleable,’’ said Barbra Musial, Javits’ vice president of sales and marketing. “And they work for spring ’03 as well as ‘04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08.”

GO NATURAL

The shades and materials found in nature abound in spring adornments.

Natural materials embellish bags, belts and jewelry.

Ben-Amun jewelry of New York mixes beads made of wood and bone with semi-precious stones like rose quartz, carnelian, and a pale yellow Mexican onyx, while Lee Angel jewelry line features shells as a lightweight alternative to metal.

Similarly, Toronto beltmaker Suzi Roher applies touches of horn, mother-of-pearl, and shells to her leather belts. Buzz by Jane Fox makes au natural more feminine with a bamboo-bottomed gingham cloth tote finished with embroidery and bamboo handles, while Lulu Guinness dots mesh totes and relaxed clutches with shells.

Straw is a perennial favorite.

Eric Javits will debut a man-made straw composed of rayon, cotton, nylon and viscose Squishee fabric to give bags durability. Similarly, MZ Wallace is working with a woven rayon traditionally used for patio furniture on spring bags.

“We’re expanding our straw category because it fits our customer but almost everyone, too. It’s universally appealing and just says spring,” said Schoenborn. “There’s the I-bought-it-in-the-islands-type bag she wears three weekends out of the year or only when she wears a bikini, but then a more sophisticated, Hermès kind.”

Her company will show both, the chic spin being a leather-handle natural straw bag trimmed with black or green leather and lined with prints.

The earthy palette. As a portion of many fashion lines offer neutral hues for spring, so do accessories. Streets Ahead belt collection of Los Angeles features neutrals mixed with white, as do bags from Tiziana of Pasadena, Calif., to make a full range of browns look new and crisp. Likewise, Eric Javits showcases hats and handbags in natural colors striped with black and white.

In addition, designers are getting creative with colors, expanding the definition of a neutral. For example, Suzi Roher leather belts come in chamois, pale blue, pink, green, and taupe, and for The Sak Elliot Lucca, a San Francisco handbag firm, it’s a washed and worn palette of earth tones including faded blue and dusty pink.

THE BUZZ

“Semi-precious stones have a spiritual element, and mixing them with earthy materials adds to the relaxing feeling,” said Isaac Manevitz, owner and designer of Ben-Amun. “People are trying to simplify their lives,” said Claire Dupuis, manager of fashion marketing apparel at cotton growers trade group Cotton Incorporated, “and muted colors feel dependable, stable.”

Boho Reborn

The hippie-chic-gone-ethnic look that saturated the markets last year returns for spring ’03, but this time as her less-costumed, more understated little sister. “The customer is looking at fashion, function, and lifestyle —‘What’s practical, what’s fashionable, and how can I assimilate it into my wardrobe?’’’ said Doneger Group’s Rudisnky. “Accessories are a melding of many different ethnicities, making them buy now-wear now, yet still seasonless.”

Turquoise gets mixed. The It mineral of last season survives, now combined with semi-precious or genuine gems in a palette of reds, oranges and yellows. Leatherock, a belt company in San Diego, Calif., is putting touches of turquoise and cornelian stones on both leather and metal chain belts just as Streets Ahead shows a continuation of turquoise, now combined with abalone and metals glazed with patina.

Strings continue to swing.

Fringe is still hanging around this spring, but this time a bit more subtly on belts and triangle-shaped wraps and scarves, which are now used also as cover-ups or waist accessories. The shimmy shows up on Streets Ahead belts as both embellishment and tie-closures. “People just feel sexy when there’s movement,” said Melton. Lulu Guinness features a fringed grouping of bags juxtaposed with Liberty-like prints of blue and pink florals for a new twist.

Hobos are happening.

Call it crescent, fortune cookie or half-moon, the slouchy handbag shape is still strong for spring. MZ Wallace introduced its Carlyle Hobo for fall for Henri Bendel and its own store in New York but will continue the silhouette through resort and spring for all retailers because, as Eustice sees it, “Hobos hit both age ranges of customers.”

THE BUZZ

“Everything goes! Belts have been the strongest accessory for the past six months,” said Melton. “Customers are going crazy for them because they haven’t bought belts for five years.” Seconded Rudinsky, “Belts will continue to be strong, but not in basics as waist interest is very important — whether from macramé, crochet, braids, or tumbled leathers.”

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