Custom Movement

There are many devoted fashionistas who feel they must have the “It” bag of the season, but lately there has been more interest in handbags that can’t be had so easily.

Custom-made bags are growing in popularity, and for fall, a number of firms are stepping up their offerings in this arena. While made-to-order bags have long been a trend on the luxury side of the business, now more lesser-priced firms and small designers are getting in on the action.

Among those who are offering custom bags this season is Luxury Accessories International, the New York-based leather goods firm that entered the custom-made business in January and now offers a variety of styles ranging in retail price from about $1,500 for a small clutch to up to $6,000.

“I think it’s definitely a growing trend, in large part because there is a desire for uniqueness,” said Valerie Abrams, director of sales at LAI. “People want to make their bags special and different. If they design it in the color and style they want, they feel it’s their own bag. This has become the latest craze.”

Abrams projects annual sales for its custom bags will hit $1 million, while total company sales are expected to reach $3 million.

Designer firms also have stepped up their focus on custom designs for fall.

Marc Jacobs, for one, introduced a special-order alligator collection, and firms such as Hermès, Tod’s and Gucci are all carrying on the tradition. Judith Leiber is offering a special line of custom monogrammed bags in honor of its 40th anniversary this year.

Even some stores have opened that are devoted to the custom bag movement. In Chicago, a boutique called 1154 Lill specializes in custom styles and has said it wants to venture into the East Coast market this year.

The Inside Story

In-store accessories boutiques are a growing trend in many stores these days.

Until recently, most stores have chosen to display accessories as more of a mishmash, with brands of all sorts rubbing up against each other. Now, more retailers and more stores are embracing the idea of presenting a full display for each brand, allowing them to offer a cohesive point of view.Saks Fifth Avenue recently re-did its first floor to include in-store boutiques for brands including Gucci, Prada, Christian Dior, Burberry and Chanel, and the concept is a prototype for future store openings and renovations. Some of the boutiques are leased, including Christian Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Bergdorf Goodman is in the midst of renovating its stores and will bring designer accessories up to the second floor to house them in designer ready-to-wear shops, although Bergdorf executives have said the in-store shops are designed to be one-of-a-kind and not resemble the shops found in other stores.

Marshall Field’s has just relocated the hosiery department at its State Street flagship to make room for in-store accessories shops, including one from Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.

Brands are also embracing the concept. Anne Klein is readying displays for its in-store accessories shops, which will make their debut at select stores this fall, and Echo Design Group is getting its ideas together for its first in-store shop, which will open at Marshall Field’s in Chicago in September.

“Retail management is more focused on accessories and it makes sense to group them together,” said Stephen Roberts, co-president at Echo Design Group.

Glove Me Do

It’s been some time since gloves had a fashion moment, but the category is staging a comeback for fall. While gloves are always a key category in the cold-weather arena, they have gotten spruced up with fashion touches that go far beyond keeping fingers warm.

A surprising number of designers showed gloves at their fall runway shows, including Prada, which displayed alligator-skin gloves, and Chanel, which showed rabbit-fur mittens and leather gloves with hardware embellishments. The increased interest in the category accompanies the return in apparel this fall to ladylike looks from the Forties and Fifties, which often featured gloves. Reflecting fashion trends for fall, many of the new glove styles are made of luxury fabrics, including high-end leathers, shearling and fur.

Stores of all stripes are stocking up on the category for coming months, including New York’s Henri Bendel, H&M and Add Accessories.

“We are definitely adding more gloves,” said Bobby Arang, owner of Add. “There are a lot of good styles out there now and it’s a hot category.”The Second Coming

The luxury sector continues to be tough, but this second half, several jewelry and watch players are hoping to buck the trend with new, lower-priced collections or line extensions.

With prices at up to 50 percent below their top pieces, these secondary lines aren’t just a way to target today’s lighter pockets. They also give firms the opportunity to jazz up their assortments to attract a younger crowd and zero in on the growing element of self-purchase in the jewelry business.

Among those launching less-expensive pieces are Boucheron, Baume & Mercier and Van Cleef & Arpels. They join the likes of La Nouvelle Bague, Damiani, Torrini, Pasquale Bruni and Stefan Hafner, who have already expanded their assortments over the past two years.

Just in time for the all-important holiday season, Boucheron’s new L’Eau à la Bouche — which means mouth-watering — is based on 18-karat chocolate gold rings, bracelets and necklaces, at retail prices from $935 to $3,500. Boucheron’s high-end pieces typically start at around $25,000.

Van Cleef & Arpels, meanwhile, will be launching Frivole, with price points from $2,400 to $6,700. Frivole includes diamond and gold necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings in the form of a clover.

Baume & Mercier is also jumping on the bandwagon and this fall is offering 18-karat yellow gold mini versions of its classic Hampton and Capeland watches, at prices from $4,900 to $6,900. “We found a void in the marketplace for 18-karat ladies’ bracelet watches that are diamond set in the $5,000 to $7,000 range,” said Edward Wright, president of Baume & Mercier North America.

Stefan Hafner offers the Springtime collection, which, starting at $1,800, is more affordable with many everyday looks.

“Lifestyles are more casual and I think that more young women are design conscious and can afford these price points,” said Peggy Grosz, vice president at Bernard Grosz, Stefan Hafner’s exclusive North American distributor. “They want luxury things from innovative true designers, but maybe are not ready to spend in five digits.”

Under the Licensed Sun

The seemingly endless spring rain may have temporarily dampened the spirits of sunglass makers, but the category promises to be red hot this fall. That’s because several designers and labels are either entering the field or aggressively relaunching their assortments for a slice of the $2.5 billion retail eyewear business.Earlier this year, Versace inked a 10-year licensing deal with Luxottica Group, which makes the sunglasses for Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo and Bulgari. Meanwhile, Giorgio Armani is working to redesign its signature Giorgio Armani and younger Emporio collections with new partner Safilo Group.

Also bowing this fall are new collections by Coach, in a license with Marchon Eyewear, Stella McCartney with Safilo and Blumarine with Colors In Optics.

“I think fall will bounce back very strongly,” said Claudio Gottardi, president and chief executive officer of Safilo in the U.S. “There will be a lot of newness this fall, which will attract those customers who have not made their purchases in spring.”

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