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Manhattan’s Holiday Treats

NEW YORK — From the quiet environs of the Upper East Side to the bustling streets of SoHo, Manhattan is teeming with new accessories boutiques.<br><br>Firms in this sector seem to have cast aside any economic worries and are filling the city...

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NEW YORK — From the quiet environs of the Upper East Side to the bustling streets of SoHo, Manhattan is teeming with new accessories boutiques.

Firms in this sector seem to have cast aside any economic worries and are filling the city with an array of handbags, jewelry and gems. Many opened in this season, just in time for holiday selling. Among the newcomers are handbag boutique Che Che New York, jewelry stores Femmegems, Objets du Desir and Cecile et Jeanne, as well as a new boutique from Brazilian shoemaker Constança Basto.

Some firms are expanding into larger areas: handbag boutique Kazuyo Nakano has moved to a bigger space on Crosby Street, while fine jeweler Aaron Basha has relocated to a larger store on Madison Avenue.

Overall, however, many of the new stores are tiny, often smaller than 500 square feet, and are seen as a way for budding designers to get their names out. The stores are also a way for them to display their full range and not compromise their designs to fit with what other retailers want.

“The store is a great way for me to test products and still keep my originality,” said Nakano, who now also has a showroom component in her new store.

Laetitia Cohen, general manager of U.S. operations for French jewelry company Cecile et Jeanne, said there are still lots of opportunities in New York and in the U.S. for new concepts.

“There is an open market for high-end costume jewelry and there is a lot of room for this category in the American market,” she said.

New to the uptown scene is Che Che New York, a tiny boutique located on Lexington Avenue that carries a range of handbags and some other accessories, including a small selection of jewelry and scarves. This is the first freestanding store for the two-year-old company, which was founded by three sisters: Eliza, Helen and Marilyn Cheung.

Che Che has wide wholesale and retail distribution in Japan and Hong Kong, and this is its first push in the U.S. The line has also been picked up by Neiman Marcus, and will be sold in some Neiman’s stores starting in January, and it’s also planning to enter the Korean market in 2003.

“We are really interested in expanding our business,” said Marilyn, the oldest sister, who is based in New York. “We would like to open other locations here.”

Eliza is the chief designer, while Helen oversees production, and both go between New York and Hong Kong.

The Che Che handbags feature plenty of novelty and playful touches, such as handpainted motifs and beaded styles. There are day options including totes and bags made in faux fur and straw, as well as evening bags with paillettes. Prices range from about $150 to $250. The store is owned by the sisters and Che Che expects to notch up sales of about $4 million this year, including the store and its wholesale business.

Meanwhile, Cecile et Jeanne has opened its second store in Manhattan on Madison Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets. The store has large windows facing the street and was designed to have an open and inviting feel, with special touches such as a sparkly chandelier from Algeria dangling in the center of the store. The 11-year-old company now operates 14 stores worldwide, including a unit in SoHo, as well as a location that recently opened in San Francisco.

Jeanne Seroussi, who owns the store with her brother, Elie, and is the designer, said she creates her collection with a “feminine feel.” The jewelry includes gold- and silver-plated items, as well as some pieces in sterling silver. It also has many bold and dramatic styles such as a necklace with a large dove motif. In addition, there is a hammered collection and a “fingerprint” line, which has a shiny finish and was inspired by the book “1001 Arabian Nights.”

Many pieces have beads and stones, such as Swarovski crystals, resins and handpainted enamel. Prices for the jewelry range from about $39 to $1,200. First-year sales are projected to be at least $800,000.

On the fine jewelry side, Aaron Basha has moved to new digs at 680 Madison Avenue. The 750-square-foot store was formerly at 760 Madison Avenue, but now has more room to feature the range of Basha’s offerings, including its well-known Baby Shoes line and the newer Lady Bug collection, as well as more diamond pieces, including whimsical hearts with half-moon and princess-cut diamonds, which interlock to form a heart shape. Prices range from about $575 to $500,000.

The store has rich tones of dark wood and an island in the center was created a little off center to give more room for customers to move around. There are also two strips on the walls that gradually turn colors, giving the store a more colorful feel. Company executives expect sales in the range of about $10 million.

Also, there’s plenty of accessories action below 14th Street. The new boutique Femmegems is the brainchild of jewelry designer Lindsay Cain. The cozy space located at 280 Mulberry Street is designed as a place for women to create their own personalized jewelry items.

Customers can choose from a myriad of beads, stones and pearls, which can be mixed and matched, and there are a number of pendants and accent beads available to add on. The stones are organized loosely by color motifs and there are tables filled with small bowls and martini glasses holding jade pendants. In the center is a large table where customers can work on their creations, and oversized pillows adorn the window sills, creating a comfortable atmosphere.

The price per piece includes clasps, wires and help starting and finishing the piece from store employees. The beads and stones are sold separately and range from 15 cents for a bead accent to about $700 for some of the most expensive beads.

“I designed the store as a place where people can come in and let their inner designer emerge,” said Cain, who was formerly an event planner and media specialist at Sony in New York.

The store also carries Cain’s finished line, also called Femmegems, and a small selection of jewelry from up-and-coming designers. Femmegems also has special packages available for those who want a place for their bridal and other parties, and Cain has a do-it-yourself component to her Web site at femmegems.com. First-year sales are projected to be about $250,000, including sales from the store and the Web site.

Also new in the NoLIta neighborhood is Objets du Desire, which opened last month at 241 Mulberry Street. The tiny boutique is in a former apartment located below street level, and is designed as a breeding ground for new jewelry designers. Founded by four former classmates from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s jewelry program, the shop has Plexiglas see-through cases attached to the wall and each one features the work by one of 28 designers represented.

“We thought this was a more interesting way to show jewelry, and also gives each designer their own space,” said Soledad Lowe, one of the owners. “It gives the boutique more of a gallery feel.”

Each of the designers signs a three-month contract with the store to test the waters. The space also gives an opportunity for smaller designers to get together and talk about shared issues and concerns since many are just starting out.

“We have a lot of fun and it’s a real collaboration,” said Sabina Neff, another of the owners.

Many of the pieces shown are in silver, although designers have their own take on jewelry, some using materials such as rubber and beads, while others include items such as semiprecious stones, old coins and even small pom-poms. The pieces generally sell for about $50 to $4,000 and Lowe said she expects to notch up sales of about $100,000 in the store’s first year.

The store has dark red walls, giving it a dramatic atmosphere, and is peppered with art projects, and Lowe said they plan to add more art to further the gallery feel. Lowe said the store also plans to start a wholesale component sometime next year so that larger retailers can come in and view the wares.

“There is always room for new jewelry concepts,” said Neff. “Most women love jewelry and they can never have enough.”

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