NEW YORK — United Colors of Benetton is getting ready to show its stripes by taking its accessories to the main floor.

For the first time in its 39-year history, the Italian apparel brand is offering its accessories collection to U.S. retailers in a distribution deal with New York-based firm La Bella Borsa. A handful of stores already have placed orders for late fall and holiday, and the coming accessories market in August will be Benetton’s official wholesale debut.

The firm successfully wholesales goods in nearly 100 other countries (the only other category wholesaled in the U.S. is fragrance). The delayed move into the U.S. was economical, said Paola Ugolini, Benetton’s sales and marketing manager for North and Central America.

“The American market suffered a lot after Sept. 11 [2001] and we wanted to wait until the right time,” Ugolini said. “[The U.S.] is getting into a much better situation now, economically.”

The company’s 150 retail boutiques in the U.S. are not large enough to showcase the vast accessories collection, which ranges from luggage and handbags to office goods and umbrellas, and have only carried a few items, which explains why Benetton’s accessories presence here previously has been minimal. Richard Siskind, chief executive officer of La Bella Borsa, expects retailers to buy a broad range of the collection and in-store shop concepts could come down the road.

Even though department stores’ accessories main floors have become more crowded, Benetton has some advantages over lesser-known lines. Already a $2 billion brand, it has a well-established image and customer base due to its controversial advertising campaigns and large retail presence.

The collection is priced from $16 for a makeup case to $350 for a large suitcase.

While luggage comprises nearly 30 percent of the business, according to Siskind, it’s likely retailers will make handbags the bulk of their buy. Retailing from $25 to $120, the bags range from sparkly turquoise vinyl to a more subdued tan canvas. There are enough bags within each look that a store can tailor its selection based on its customer.

Siskind said stores will be able to bring in “a well-recognized multinational brand without having to change the concept of the whole store.”He declined to disclose sales projections for the first year, but said he expects to do “very, very big business, especially from the first indications we’ve had.”

La Bella Borsa also will act as wholesale distributor for accessories under Benetton’s fashion-forward brand, Sisley. That collection will hit stores next spring.

— E.H.

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