By  on February 21, 2006

Accessories makers use the luxury trend to slay the competition.

Luxury leads the accessories market.

As manufacturers have sourced finer materials, established stronger brands or switched to a contemporary direction, high-end looks have trickled down to all price points. Vendors report global economic and weather conditions worked in favor of business last year, with only a few minor blips from natural elements, such as an extensive rainy season in Madagascar, labor shortages in China and the rise of the yuan versus the dollar.

Consumer appreciation for luxurious qualities like buttery leathers, realistic embossing, fashion colors and novelty hardware is driving sales at Donald J. Pliner Handbags, a New York bag and belt division of the shoe company of the same name.

"They've learned that our styles are real accessories and not just functional, basic black bags. Women are changing their bag more often than usual, too," said western region sales executive Ro Gallant-Brown.

The division, launched in 2002, had sales increases of 45 percent in 2005, due to a better product mix, brand recognition through heavier advertising and the company's established shoe business, and more distribution channels, including Parisian, specialty stores and Nordstrom's shoe salons and Web site, according to Gallant-Brown.

As designers, factories and communication have become more sophisticated, Donald J. Pliner Handbags has suffered fewer setbacks, she said. The Couture collection, which is manufactured in Italy and correlates with shoes, wholesales from $125 to $450. For the Collections group, which wholesales from $50 to $200, Italian materials are assembled in China, a strategy she said cuts costs 40 percent.

To reach more women's boutiques, the com­pany began exhibiting at WWDMAGIC three years ago. Gallant-Brown opened approximately 40 accounts at August's show.

"Along with New York shows, MAGIC presents the most varied customer for us. We get lots of international business there," she said.

This February marks SolarEx Sunglasses' first time at WWDMAGIC, according to Mike Thompson, director of sales for the eyewear and eyewear accessories company based in Cleveland, Ohio, and Gilbert, Ariz. He hopes to expand on its success at other trade shows, including Surf Expo and ASD/AMD.

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