By and  on March 4, 2002

NEW YORK -- The current economic difficulties aren't stopping eager newcomers from stepping into the handbag scene.

Here, a sampling of some fresh faces:

Leonello Borghi

Many leather goods designers dream of setting up production in Italy. Not so for New York-based Leonello Borghi, who manufactures his new line of handbags in the city.

A Florentine, Borghi came to New York in 1994 and has since been a design consultant for several Italian companies, while also starting his men's clothing and accessories business in 2000.

The men's line is currently being sold at such stores as Barneys New York, Takashimaya New York, Maxfield in Los Angeles and Harvey Nichols in London.

"There was a crossover in customers," he said. "Many women wanted to buy the handbags designed for men, so I felt there was a need. That's why I started women's handbags."

Consisting of 17 styles, Borghi's current collection for women is made of lambskin, goatskin, calf leather and canvas, with water-repellent nylon. Styles include a mini shoulder bag, a large tote shopper in canvas with leather trim combinations, a large soft hobo and a flat napa leather handbag. Each bag also features functional elements, such as exterior pockets, as well as deep vertical pockets on the inside.

"I love totes and satchels because they have a unisex look," he said. "I like to design for women that feel so confident that they don't need something heavily embellished."

The line, which launched with a party at Whitespace Studios in Manhattan during the recent runway shows, is also inspired by the movement of the city, said Borghi.

"A city like New York is about energy, movement and speed," he said. "I wanted to make sure [the handbags] are friendly against the body. I always make sure the bags are lightweight and functional."

Wholesale prices range from $110 to $160, and Borghi said he is projecting first-year sales of about $400,000, with distribution aimed at existing Borghi men's wear accounts and select department and specialty stores.

Suen Cooper

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