NEW YORK — Escada has its eye on accessories and has unveiled a series of moves designed to build this area, including the launch of a high-end luxury collection called Exotics, and plans to begin wholesaling accessories next spring.

“We want to become one of the key players in accessories,” said Marc Lelandais, the German fashion house’s general manager of accessories and luxury goods. “For us, accessories are a way to build our brand awareness and target new consumer groups, and we think this could be a $150 million business within three to four years.”

Handbags, shoes, belts and small leather goods, which are produced in-house, now account for about $57.7 million in sales, or roughly 8 percent of overall company sales, according to Lelandais. Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at current exchange rates. The firm also has scarves and eyewear, which are produced under license, as well as a fine jewelry collection, made in collaboration with diamond firm The Pluczenik Group, in addition to its Couture, Collection and Sport apparel divisions, which are made in-house.

“Our goal is for accessories to be 25 percent of overall sales,” Lelandais said.

The accessories push comes at a time when the Munich-based firm is undertaking cost-cutting moves that impact nearly all of its operative and administrative sectors. In the six months ended April 30, Escada lost $8.4 million, as sales declined 25.3 percent to $354.7 million, which the firm attributed to a weak consumer climate in all markets.

Last month, however, the Palm Beach, Fla.-based private equity firm HMD Partners signed a deal to invest $50 million in Escada, a cash infusion it said would strengthen its capital base and allow it to defer plans to divest its noncore operations.

While Escada has had accessories for about 20 of its 27 years in business, until recently the products have been closely tied to the sportswear, with similar fabrics and styling. Currently under the helm of accessories design director Claudio Merazzi, who joined the company last year, accessories have gotten a complete makeover and are designed to stand on their own. The collection is now produced primarily in Italy.Most notably, the company for fall has introduced Exotics, which features items such as embossed calfskin high-heel boots, snakeskin handbags with a horn buckle and satin evening bags with hand-stitched Swarovski jewels. Many of the items have ornamental touches, such as ostrich feathers and mother-of-pearl inserts, and are made in materials including python and crocodile.

For spring 2004, the line includes shoes and handbags in fine leathers and canvas with elements including stones, wood treatments and shells, according to a preview of the line. Retail prices for the Exotic collection range from $650 to $1,600 for handbags and $450 to $1,350 for shoes.

Escada also makes two other lines in accessories: ML, which is its core line and carries prices of $380 to $1,059, and Sport, a collection designed to coordinate with its active offerings that bowed this spring and has prices of $200 to $600.

Currently, the accessories are primarily sold in Escada’s 440 stores worldwide, although the firm has limited wholesale distribution in Asia. In the U.S., it plans to start wholesaling next spring, and while no stores have been established, Escada is looking to build its business in stores like Saks, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, according to Lelandais.

Accessories are also a key component of the Escada’s fall marketing plans. Its fall ad campaign was shot by Steven Meisel and features top models such as Karen Elson, Caroline Robeiro and Liya Kebede, with handbags and shoes from the Exotics collection.

“This ad campaign is part of our new consumer branding strategy,” Lelandais said. “We are working to build a global brand.”

Escada is exploring other categories to be produced under license, including swimwear, watches and costume jewelry, said Lelandais.

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