NEW YORK — When designers such as Marc Jacobs sent out looks in Easter egg colors during the spring runway presentations, accessories makers — scrambling for a key silhouette, fabric or color to lift sales — sat up and took notice.

While business continues to be challenging at retail, many vendors said they expect the ladylike looks and bright colors to lure consumers back to stores and into spending modes come spring.

To that end, many accessories firms have stepped up their novelty offerings with a bevy of popping colors and an array of fabrics during the spring accessories market this month. Handbag looks include soft and slouchy styles in leather and suede, as well as clutches at a variety of price points. Much of the jewelry styling concentrated on stones, and items such as coral, mother-of-pearl and wood have replaced the ubiquitous turquoise.

"Business is not great and retail is about 20 percent down right now, but there are winners in any economic environment," said Uri Alter, president of sales showroom Apropo. "For spring, it has to be novelty because if consumers don’t spend as much, the items really have to scream at them."

Bruce Makowsky, president of accessories at Nine West, said: "[Stores] are looking for things women don’t already own, particularly fashion-forward, embellished product. People are getting away from safe things. With interest rates so low, people are spending money on big-ticket items like houses and cars. In order for them to buy another handbag or wallet, there has to be a reason. Fashion is selling better than it’s ever sold."

Nine West, a division of Jones Apparel Group, launched a licensed Esprit handbag collection with eight groups featuring sporty messenger bags, shoppers and soft hobos with floral appliqués.

"It’s about a young-attitude product of which there isn’t enough now in stores," said Makowsky, who declined to give sales projections. The Esprit bag collection retails for $30 to $42 and targets department stores for spring.

Jones’ Victoria & Co. division launched a jewelry line for footwear and leather goods brand Enzo Angiolini, part of the firm’s Nine West unit. The jewelry, which wholesales from $4.80 to $110, features semiprecious stones such as carnelian, rock crystal, agate, jade, turquoise, mother-of-pearl and aventurine, combined with metal finishes in soft gold and silver, as well as suede and leather finishes.Jewelry designer R.J. Graziano stepped up his coral offering for spring with beaded coral necklaces and mother-of-pearl floral pendant discs. "A few stores got out of focus because last spring was so intense with turquoise at any price point, but when fall came, no one knew what to do," said Graziano. "Turquoise was too strong, too available, and everybody bought heavily into it [last spring]. It’s time for coral again."

Maxine Coppersmith, president of the Notanonymous showroom, said, "Turquoise was a great trend, but the challenge is to be able to follow it up with something to propel consumers to buy again. For us, it’s feminine looks with Easter egg colors, such as pinks, blues and yellows."

At Notanonymous, bestsellers included Lenni Navarro’s Asian-inspired semiprecious and pearl pendant necklaces, and Feran’s canvas bag with bamboo top handles.

Many vendors agreed that this spring’s open-to-buy was 10 to 15 percent lower than last year because stores still have a lot of unsold fall merchandise.

"Holiday will be a big determinant," said Janet Goldman, president at Fragments, where top trends were mother-of-pearl, oxidized silver and gold, diamond and coral pendants on leather cords.

Prior to market, Fragments moved its store from 107 Greene Street to 116 Prince Street in SoHo, which formerly housed the temporary "This is New York" exhibit. The 1,500-square-foot store is about 400 square feet larger than the original and offers items from designers such as Dana Kellin, Chan Luu, Wendy Brigode, Miguel Ases and Carolina Bucci.

"We are redoing the building on Greene Street, so we had to move for construction," said Goldman, who declined to give sales projections for the new location.

Junior brand Hot Kiss presented its new watch collection manufactured in a license with Pacific Connections. The initial line features strap and clip styles, with denim-covered packaging. Strap styles include denim and genuine leather styles. The line wholesales for $12 to $15.

Robert Rokoff, creative director at handbag firm Maxx New York, said pricing continues to be a key element in spring buys.

"Stores want more value," he said. "They are focusing on the best groups and they don’t want to be overassorted."Maxx stepped up its special programs, with groups designed exclusively to meet the needs of some retailers.

"We don’t want to lose any of the dollars, so we’re trying to get them in different ways," he said.

Craig Chorney, vice president of creative product direction at Accessory Network, said: "Everybody, from manufacturer to retailer, is scrambling to figure out how to increase their business, whether it’s by realigning brand or getting more brands or overexposing a product category they may already have."

For fall 2003, Accessory Network is teaming up with hat designer Patricia Underwood for a licensed line of fashion accessories branded So Patricia! by Patricia Underwood. The bridge collection will include hats, gloves, mittens, mufflers, scarves, earmuffs, handbags, totes and small leather goods.

"Because of the lack of direction in silhouette, newness is coming in fabrics such as corduroy, suede and textured leathers, and details like whipstitching, cross stitching, and blanket stitching," said Chorney.

At handbag firm Stone Mountain Accessories, new items include styles made in materials such as coated cotton, embroidered nylon and woven materials. In its leather offerings, top looks are soft and slouchy styles, including bags with more hardware. Mini handbags have been another top-selling category, said Kenny Orr, president of the New York firm.

In the last three years, the 28-year-old company has been working to update itself by branching into new fabrics aside from leather and offering more fashionable and trendy silhouettes. The company is also carrying a larger assortment of lower-priced items and has embarked on an advertising campaign.

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