By  on January 24, 2005

NEW YORK — Chalk one up for the counterculture: last summer’s preppy is this year’s bohemian.

For spring and summer, accessories designers are luring buyers with nature-inspired jewelry, ethnic-looking tunics and braided belts.

Vendors and retailers packed themselves into Accessorie Circuit and AccessoriesTheShow, two trade shows held here during the recent accessories market. Buyer attendance at Circuit, which was held at the Show Piers, was on par with last year’s numbers. Over at TheShow at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, buyer attendance was up 20 percent from last year, according to show organizers.

Nearly everyone reported solid fourth-quarter business and remained hopeful for a buoyant spring. Still, some companies raised concerns about being able to top last year’s strong numbers.

“This show has great traffic,” said Brad Frey, president at showroom DP Accessories, exhibiting at Accessorie Circuit. “But our challenge will be to anniversary last year, where we had three major trends driving the business: pins, ponchos and fur.”

Frey said long necklaces and cuff bracelets were standouts. Long, linear earrings, ethnic-inspired jewelry and novelty-themed totes continued to be popular with buyers making their late-season orders, and a number picked up on emerging items such as belts.

Sunny Diego, director of women’s accessories and fashion merchandising for Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “It’s really about the neck and cuffs, and bold rings…and ‘mixed media’ is just getting stronger and stronger. People want to look very individual, so they are throwing in everything but the kitchen sink — fabric, raffia, leather, stones, metal, etc. — in one piece of jewelry.”

A mix of natural materials such as wood, shells and even sharks’ teeth was seen from jewelry vendors including Melissa Joy Manning, Lee Angel, Gerard Yosca and Alexis Bittar.

John Mendes, buyer for Rye, N.Y.-based Plaza Too, said he did well with Bittar’s turquoise pieces during the holidays and planned to reorder.

“He expanded on the collection,” Mendes said, “and I’m feeling much more confident in turquoise now.”

Elsewhere, novelty got some play. Erickson Beamon showed necklaces with large enamel fish pendants and neon-colored, gumball-sized beads and oversized hearts.Many noted the emerging importance of belts as a trend. Uri Alter, president of the Apropo showroom, said, “Belts are becoming the trend of the season. The waist belt is so important because of the gypsy skirt.”

Wide, braided belts were seen from designers such as Linea Pelle. Based on the ubiquity of jeans, leather belts studded with grommets and rhinestones with brooch-like buckles also were popular with buyers. Mendes of Plaza Too said that the look is moving away from the preppy-inspired styles of  last spring and toward embellishment and leather.

A new story in handbags is a modern treatment for neutrals. Metallic leathers such as gold, silver and rose “read as neutral” said Mark Talucci, chief executive officer of the Sak, and, as such, are selling well.

Embellishment and details are worked into a more muted palette and subtle style. Liz Claiborne offered leather hobo bags in ivory, chocolate brown and black with beaded handles or laser-cut butterfly patterns.

“Color is still important for spring, but not as important as last year,” Talucci said at a party the company held to launch its spring ad campaign with gold-medal Olympic softball player Jennie Finch. “The market is still very good right now, but last year, we saw huge increases, so it may be tougher to have increases this year.”

— With contributions from Marc Karimzadeh

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