Business remains tough below Manhattan’s 14th Street, but two downtown accessories firms seem set to make the leap from an insider status to high brand visibility next year. NoLIta-based shoe and handbag firm Sigerson Morrison, a favorite among fashionistas, is set to open a 750-square-foot boutique at 8307 West Third Street in Los Angeles in March. With celebrity stylists aplenty, this store will likely increase its Hollywood customer base and give the line a shot in the arm with exposure on TV shows and those addictive celebrity weeklies — just think of what Hollywood did to Jimmy Choo’s business.

Founded by Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison in 1991, the company — with an estimated volume of $11 million in 2002 — is known for its pointy slingback shoes, metallic open-toe sandals and kitten-heel boots. This spring, SM is launching an unusual flip-flop with a kitten heel — its interior structural "spine" consists of polycarbonate for stability. But the duo is also starting to build its assortment of handbags and small leather goods, and recently added fine leather gloves to its assortment of totes, watermelon python cardholders and silver wrist wallets.

The Los Angeles store will feature similar elements to its assortment of accessories in an environment with white round tile floors and Glo-Ball lamps.

"We have always had a strong wholesale business in L.A.," said Morrison. "Since we do great sandals and boots, it makes sense to open here."

Meanwhile, handbag and accessories firm Rafé New York recently signed a distribution agreement with Japanese distributor Eternal Inc. and industrial development firm Mitsui & Co. to expand its business in the Japanese market. As part of the plan, the company will open a sales showroom and, eventually, in-store concepts, as well as a freestanding Rafé boutique, in Tokyo.

"Despite the current recession, our challenge is to expand our market penetration, domestic and international," Tesa Totengco, vice president and sales director at Rafé New York, told WWD this month. "We have the the structure, the production capabilities and an organization to back up international sales. Now that we are more solidified financially and structurally, we can do it."

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