By  on September 24, 2007

Long on the fringes of fashion's spotlight, accessories designers are now bagging some of the industry's top jobs and are poised to become major stars in their own right — with paychecks to match.

Frida Giannini, who in 2006 went from being Gucci's handbag designer to its sole creative director, said there's a potent reason: "There is a lot of competition in the accessories sector, which is highly profitable."

A growing number of brands have followed Gucci's path: In July, Mulberry accessories designer Stuart Vevers was named the creative director of Loewe, and in February, shoe designer Brian Atwood took control of all categories at Bally.

Such appointments mark a sea change in the industry, which until recently relied on hot names in fashion to rejuvenate brands of all kinds. For example, Spanish leather goods house Loewe, part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, first engaged New York's Narciso Rodriguez to rev it up, followed by José Enrique Oña Selfa from Paris.

But Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of the LVMH fashion division, said mounting a hot runway show can be tantamount to "putting a fashion patch on a brand." In his estimation, "You have to have some real credibility in the core business of the brand....We are keeping ready-to-wear, but almost as an accessory."

"We do live in an age where accessories have taken center stage, where the 'It' bag or shoe seems to have become more important than the right dress," agreed Atwood, best known for helping Donatella Versace build her accessories line. His first full women's collection for Bally will be unveiled on Tuesday during Milan Fashion Week.

Designers, headhunters and consultants predicted accessories designers would gain an ever-higher profile in the industry, even if their ranks are few.

"The demand for good accessories designers is at an all-time high," said Robert Burke, a New York-based fashion and luxury consultant. "They are more regarded than ever before, definitely."

"I think it is just common sense. When the roots of a brand are in accessories, it makes more sense to have a creative director who is strong in accessories," added Floriane De Saint Pierre, who runs an executive search and consulting firm in Paris. "If the brand comes from accessories, a talented accessories designer brings an immediate creative vision and an immediate know-how."

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