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What to Watch: Spring’s Best Buy … Van Cleef & Arpels’ Couture Moment … A New Pack of Contenders …

<P><STRONG>SPRING'S BEST BUY</STRONG><BR><BR>Brooches and necklaces may be all the accessories rage, but this hasn’t stopped luxury goods houses from wishing to zero in on the must-have handbag — the kind that makes a woman’s heart...

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This story first appeared in the December 6, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

SPRING’S BEST BUY

Brooches and necklaces may be all the accessories rage, but this hasn’t stopped luxury goods houses from wishing to zero in on the must-have handbag — the kind that makes a woman’s heart beat faster, a boyfriend or husband run to the stores and a leather goods executive laugh all the way to the bank.

From Giorgio Armani to Valentino and Jil Sander, designers have been busy strengthening their accessories assortment. For spring, several contenders for the must-have handbag have emerged, and they are the handbags to watch in 2005.

Louis Vuitton continued its collaboration with Takashi Murakami and offered a delightful monogram bag with a cherry print, but the house’s pièce de résistance is arguably the Monogram Denim Neo Speedy bag, made of stonewashed denim with red alligator trim and brass handles, for $5,709 at retail.

Christian Dior whipped editors into a frenzy at its spring runway presentation with its new top-handle Detective bags. They are available in cream, red and black and are inspired by Seventies and Eighties murder mystery shows. They range in retail price from $1,440 to $2,790.

Other contenders include Chanel, which is adding a new twist to its Ligne Cambon collection with leather and python combinations, from $775 to $3,095, while Tod’s Venghe shoulder bag comes with distinct wooden hardware, from $950 to $1,150. — Marc Karimzadeh

VAN CLEEF & ARPELS’ COUTURE MOMENT

From brooches neatly pinned onto cashmere sweaters to long layered necklaces dangling from swan-like necks, statement-making jewelry is experiencing a fashion moment. Its momentum and visibility is likely to increase next year as fashion designers continue to turn out pretty, feminine looks that call for jeweled adornments.

Clearly, fashion and fine jewelry have never been closer. Jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels is exploring this notion with Couture, its latest haute joaillerie collection of dazzling one-of-a-kind pieces to be launched at a private dinner in New York on Sunday.

Since being acquired by Compagnie Financière Richemont AG in 1999, Van Cleef & Arpels has adopted a strategy that includes launching a high jewelry collection every year. Two years ago, it introduced the The Century Collection based on 530 colored diamonds bought from a private European collector. Last year, the venerable jeweler added Midsummer Night’s Dream, which focused on themes of the ancient world.

Couture draws from the Twenties for inspiration and interprets fashion details such as lace, embroidery, ribbons, tassels and buttons in precious metals and gemstones.

“The Couture collection is directly inspired from our archives,” said Nathalie Guedj, president and chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels Inc. “Van Cleef & Arpels had two main inspiration themes: nature and couture. For the past 10 years, we have been working much more on the nature theme. We believe that now it is time again to develop the couture theme.”

Couture’s lace-like Dentelle group features earrings and rings with white diamonds set in white gold and pink diamonds in pink gold, while embroidery-inspired Broderie has a necklace and ring with flower motifs set with blue sapphires and tsavorite garnet leaves. The Zip group, meanwhile, is inspired by the zipper — its white gold and diamond necklace has a zipper mechanism with a sliding ruby-set ribbon. Noeud features pieces that draw from the knot, including a yellow gold and yellow and white diamond double-knot ring.

“The designs are like clothes, they are very unique but at the same time, easy to wear,” Guedj said.

Couture starts at about $19,500 for a pink gold and diamond Noeud ring and can go up to $1.29 million for a white and pink diamond Dentelle necklace. The collection will consist of about 70 one-of-a-kind pieces, though Guedj added that some will be duplicated at a later date. Select designs will be exhibited at the Fifth Avenue boutique for two weeks before the collection moves to Beverly Hills and Palm Beach. It will travel to Europe and Japan next year.

Asked why the company launched Couture in New York, Guedj said: “The U.S. market is the number-one high jewelry market in the world, and New York is more and more about fashion….It’s not just Paris and Milan anymore.” — M.K.

A NEW PACK OF CONTENDERS

Bags by houses such as Gucci, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton always will be coveted by the fashionable, but prices in the last year have soared into the thousands because of the weakness of the dollar and the trend of using expensive exotic skins. Sure, one could take the fake route and buy a knockoff, but for many self-respecting fashionistas that’s just not an option. As a result, there’s a growing market of handbag designers catering to the consumer looking for something several thousand dollars shy of a $4,000 Louis Vuitton price tag.

This fall, the runaway hit was Botkier’s Trigger bag for $475. The nascent company’s sales went to $5 million from $5,000 in a year, a representative said. Barneys New York devoted the majority of its floor space in the Madison Avenue Co-op to the collection.

Designer Monica Botkier, a former fashion photographer, smartly took style cues from designer houses — Balenciaga-inspired zippers and long leather pulls and a metal clamp closure that calls to mind Gucci — but still created a chic bag original enough to be unrecognizable to all but insiders. The spring line includes bags in canvas and leather as well as a new hobo shape.

Women like to discover a new bag on someone and ask “Where did you get that?” said Pierre Keyser, North American distributor for French brand Lancel, which is relaunching its collection in the U.S. for spring. When it first launched, and flopped, in 2001, the company went head-to-head with Coach. This time around, the firm plans a tight and exclusive distribution in a higher-end market. — Emily Holt

FROM THE HIP

Now that trucker caps have reached their popularity peak, the next trend that is ‘so bad it’s really good’ might just be fanny packs.

Those misshapen utilitarian sacs that hung from one too many tacky tourists’ waistlines in the Eighties have recently been co-opted by hipsters.

A buyer for Beacon’s Closet, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, vintage store, said she has purchased and sold quite a few, including a retro Chanel number that can hang off a belt or double as a purse. The fanny pack also has been spotted on stylesetters on the streets in Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Lower East Side and SoHo. And then there’s even the band Fannypack (which went for the dorkiest name it could think of, said the group’s producer-DJ Mike Goias).

Wendy Mullin, designer of the New York-based Built by Wendy line, and Judi Rosen, designer of the accessories line Miss Dater and owner of the East Village boutique The Good the Bad and the Ugly, are both pros at picking up what’s under the radar. For fall, they have both created versions of the fanny pack.

Mullin’s are tailored and militaristic with three button-through flap pockets. They come in green tweed and navy sueded canvas and wholesale for $35 each. Rosen’s take honors the classic crescent shape, complete with a webbed belt and plastic buckle, except drops the rugged nylon for leathers printed with brash geometric patterns. They wholesale for $50.

Come spring, the fanny pack will also be available in denim from Wrangler 47, the contemporary collection Mullin designs for the venerable jeansmaker. It wholesales for $15.

There’s a new twist, though. These days, sometimes fanny packs are called “belt bags” or “hip bags.” Urban Outfitters, which now offers a fanny pack on its Web site, calls it a belt bag and merchandises it in the belt, not the bag, section. It’s flat like an envelope and all leather — no webbed straps here. Good taste can be bought, it seems, as it retails for only $28.

Chanel, meanwhile, is doing a luxury version of the belt bag. For spring, Chanel offers a silk and gold camellia print waist bag from its Bohemia group. It retails for $650 and will be available at Chanel boutiques nationwide.

Outlaw Consulting of San Francisco, whose clients include Nike and Levi Strauss, has a theory that explains the return of the fanny pack. According to a recent newsletter posted on its Web site, the fanny pack — along with big plastic earrings, beards and moustaches, the early Nineties, white tennis shoes and Southern rock — is an “Emerging Ironic Statement.”

“The concept is simple,” the newsletter explained. “Take something so uncool that it causes a reaction, wear it with a combination of humor and confidence and it becomes cool…As a trend, irony shows no signs of waning.”
— Cate T. Corcoran

TOTALLY WAISTED

It’s difficult to say whether the belt is back, but there is no doubt it’s been getting more play. Prada showed thin versions on its fall runway, and for next spring, designers went for high-waisted or obi-style looks. As for the mainstream consumers, they gravitated toward soft fabric belts this year. Preppy grosgrain styles with country-club icons and embellished silk sashes were strong sellers, and judging from vendors’ spring collections, the trends will continue through the first half of next year.

“I think denim got belts back in the picture,” said Vanessa Witke, designer for one-year-old sportswear and belt brand Ibisco. The low-slung styles that accompanied hip-hugger jeans are still popular, but going forward, customers might be more open to wearing them on their waist wrapped around a cardigan or shirtdress, she said. Ibisco’s spring offerings include fabric belts with ribbon ties, embellished with paillettes, buttons and beads. Going into the second half, she’ll add brooch buckles and soft suede styles. “Soft belts are easy to wear and they’re adjustable,” she said. “If you remember the belts of the Eighties, they were sort of cool and very rock ’n’ roll, but they didn’t appeal to a lot of people.”  — Emily Holt

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