LOS ANGELES — Gwen Stefani is adding to her entourage with the holiday debut of handbags for her two-year-old contemporary label, L.A.M.B.
Stefani, the singer who designs clothing and accessories for L.A.M.B., as well as for her lower-price streetwear label, Harajuku Lovers, is melding her knack for youth trends and love of European luxury in L.A.M.B.'s 33 styles, which will hit retail floors on Dec. 1.
The collection is divided into two groups, Signature and Love, which are differentiated by materials and colors but unified by a theme emphasizing "irreverent luxury," according to Tim Schifter, chairman and chief executive officer of the four-month-old accessories company, New York's Schifter + Partners, which is collaborating with Stefani to produce the line. Stefani is a minority shareholder in Schifter.
The Signature set is designed in canvas that is printed with a diamond pattern interspersed with the letter "L" in old English script and portraits of a lamb wearing a crown. It is available in saddle brown or what L.A.M.B. refers to as ombré Rasta, which fades from green to yellow to red. In the Love collection, chunky brass padlocks plated in gold tones and leather tassels dangle from oiled leather handbags in black, stone and white. Both groups integrate a black-and-white striped faille lining, white leather or burnout velvet trim running down the center and an enameled metal plaque in a robin's egg blue.
"I designed the bags for myself," Stefani wrote via e-mail in the middle of a packed schedule taking care of her 11-week-old son, Kingston, and working on a second solo album.
At the same time, she said she wanted to create a wide range of sizes and styles so that every need can be met. "I wanted to create everyday bags that were wearable, classic and timeless," she added.
Schifter hopes the L.A.M.B. handbag collection will hit the sweet spot between mall-based mass retailers and designer labels.
"Women today are dressing younger and more contemporary as they get older," Schifter said. "There's opportunity for enormous growth in the contemporary market because the consumer base has grown."
Core handbag styles average from $395 to $550 for the Signature collection and $550 to $700 for the Love line, although there are less expensive items such as $75 key pouches.While the owner of LeSportsac, Schifter collaborated with Stefani on three collections of L.A.M.B. for LeSportsac bags that generated about a third of the company's more than $100 million in annual wholesale sales. In November 2005, New York's Accessory Network Group and Japan's Itochu Corp. acquired LeSportsac — which was founded by Schifter's parents in 1974 — reportedly for more than $100 million. Upon the expiration of a six-month nonsolicitation restriction prohibiting Schifter from directly or indirectly soliciting customers of LeSportsac products, Schifter began meeting with retailers to introduce and take orders for the L.A.M.B. handbag collection late last week during New York market.
Schifter + Partners also is working on handbags and small leather goods for Harajuku Lovers, being launched in September with a target of 450 doors, and for Jill Stuart, bowing next spring. Schifter said before year's end he plans to announce an accessories deal with a fourth U.S. fashion brand that will debut in the fourth quarter of 2007.
Schifter said L.A.M.B.'s clothing, which is sold by retailers such as Kitson, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, has paved the way for accessories. Since the clothing line bowed in spring 2004, Stefani has introduced L.A.M.B.-brand watches, and shoes for women and babies. An eyewear license is in the works.
"The L.A.M.B. customer is extremely loyal," said Erin Crandall, head buyer for Shopbop.com, which is based in Madison, Wis., and has a buying office in New York.
Crandall said L.A.M.B. is one of Shopbop's strongest lines. Still, she passed on carrying L.A.M.B.'s shoes because they were too edgy and masculine to complement the line's top-selling feminine looks. She predicted that her customers would like the handbags, however. Shopbop currently carries styles priced between $400 and $700 from brands like Kooba, Botkier and Gustto. As the contemporary and designer handbag markets begin to overlap in price, she said, "entering a market right now and having a great bag that retails for under $500 is a good thing."
Schifter plans to limit distribution for L.A.M.B. bags to 250 doors in department and specialty stores in the first season. During the first two days of showing the L.A.M.B. collection, he said Henri Bendel, Nordstrom, Kitson and Holt Renfrew, among others, ordered the line. He plans to expand the distribution of the bags to France, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea for fall 2007. During a visit to Los Angeles earlier this month, he was scouting a location on Melrose Place for a design studio and showroom for Schifter + Partners.
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