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Brands Play the High-Low Game

Designer accessories aren't getting any cheaper for spring and summer.

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PARIS — Designer accessories aren’t getting any cheaper for spring and summer.

But as price tags for the season’s most luxurious offerings continue to skyrocket, a crop of more affordable options is emerging.

For example, well-heeled Louis Vuitton fanatics can splurge on its new Patchwork bag at 14,000 euros, or around $16,000, while more frugal shoppers can take home an Antigua canvas shopper for 400 to 500 euros, or around $470 to $600. (Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange.)

The high-low pricing system is not just confined to handbags. It will be found across accessories categories, including fine jewelry, in the months ahead.

“What is really new is that jewelry houses are introducing line extensions to coax younger generations that they can then lead into the luxury market,” said Catherine Newey, accessories and luxury market director for French department store Printemps.

Newey is referring to a new wave of fine jewelry lines that are easier on the wallet, such as Chanel’s Matelassée, Chaumet’s Liens, Boucheron’s Symbolique and Pomellato’s Dodo collections.

“Communication strategies have also turned toward a much younger clientele, with houses employing younger muses, such as Chanel with Vanessa Paradis,” she said.

Watches are also mentioned as a rising category, with Marc Jacobs, Burberry and Gucci all delivering strong new fashion products decorated with designs that echo their main collections.

“There’s a strong trend for houses to release matching accessory designs applied to products at different accessibility points,” said Newey. “An item such as a watch is much more accessible than a bag.”

Still, some designer handbags are increasingly within reach. Among the recent barrage of entry-level propositions are Celine’s Lili range, featuring bags that retail at 390 to 540 euros, or $460 to $640, and Christian Dior’s new Dior Vintage Traveler line, priced at 670 euros, or $790 — peanuts compared with Dior’s coveted crocodile Detective that goes for a flush-inducing 23,000 euros, or around $27,000.

Certain brands and retailers are going for gold, however, sticking to the big-dollar league. Balenciaga’s classic, The First, comes dressed in crocodile for spring for 8,975 euros, or roughly $10,000, and the new The Hook bag retails at 875 euros, or $1,000, for a small silk version to 1,135 euros, or $1,340, for the largest style.

“We noticed a big leap in prices for bags this season,” said Sebastian Manes, women’s accessories buyer for Selfridges.

But citing a palpable mood for luxury, with customers so far showing little resistance to high prices, Manes is nonetheless focusing on high-end product.

“Specific models over brands, such as Chloé’s Paddington, are driving demand,” said Manes, also calling Fendi’s Spy bag, retailing at 1,120 pounds, or around $1,900, a new hit. “We’ve only received 50 units for the U.K. and there’s already a huge waiting list that includes Victoria Beckham.”

Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for footwear, cosmetics, fine and fashion jewelry, handbags and soft accessories for Bergdorf Goodman, said the store is not looking at price tags, but at whether specific product is beautiful and in line with what the customer wants.

“There’s been a rise in prices for bags over the last two years, but there’s also a lot more attention to detail and that’s what drives the price up,” he said, adding the store applies the same protocol selecting high-end product as it does for entry-level lines. “Our customers want something that’s on trend and of incredible quality. And if an [entry-level] bag makes our edit visually, it will be housed in the same area as the luxury designer pieces.”

Prada, meanwhile, has chosen an equally democratic route.

“Our prices tend to vary according to the collection’s mood, whether it’s more sporty or luxurious,” said a Prada spokeswoman. “But this season more than ever we have a broad range of bags, from classic canvas shoppers and nylon bags for 250 euros, or around $300, to a crocodile bag for 10,000 euros, or approximately $12,000. When a bag’s that beautiful, people don’t mind paying the price.”

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