BARRY KIESELSTEIN-CORD, PRESIDENT AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF THE LUXURY brand bearing his name, is a true believer in the saying “whatever goes around, comes around.” How could he not, given his start? Kieselstein-Cord became interested in jewelry design after tagging along to a girlfriend’s class at the American Craft Institute. When he planned to take the more advanced session, the teacher told him not to bother. “He said I had no talent,” Kieselstein-Cord says. The entrepreneur definitely got the last laugh, as his growing jewelry and accessories brand, with its signature alligator design, continues to take a bite out of the luxury market. Not to mention that years later, the teacher unknowingly applied for a job at Kieselstein-Cord’s company. Kieselstein-Cord, who now counts two Coty American Fashion Critics Awards and a Council of Fashion Designers of America award among his credits, told him not to bother. Today, Kieselstein-Cord employs some 40 in-house people and operates six freestanding locations in New York and abroad, catering to a largely moneyed crowd. The median price point of his jewelry is $8,500 to $12,000, with some of his favorite pieces depicting a spider with a woman’s face and bodice. “It’s a pretty arresting visual,” he says. While jewelry remains a key facet of his business, his collection of high-end handbags is a growing segment, with its popular alligator trophy bag leading the way at $28,000. A smaller version goes for $12,000. Handbags once accounted for 50 percent of sales, but the company reduced production when one of its largest retail partners looked to go with lower- priced merchandise. Since then, Kieselstein-Cord has expanded, opening locations in Moscow, Zurich, Munich and Jakarta, allowing the company to reintroduce its handbag collection last fall. Kieselstein-Cord says the move abroad was years in the working. “We could see where the dollar is going,” he says, noting that the brand wanted to expand into Europe and the Far East. “We wanted to beat the crowd.” Not that Kieselstein-Cord plans to forget its roots. The company will sew and stamp new tags stating “Made in Manhattan” into its handbags and leather goods appearing in its fall 2009 collections. Kieselstein-Cord — which will open a second stand-alone store in Jakarta’s Plaza Indonesia this fall, and is set to launch stores in Singapore, Macao and Tokyo in 2009 — also is looking to broaden its presence in the eyewear market. The company licenses with Optical Shops of Aspen to produce and sell its eyewear, with some of its most popular styles sporting alligator trim and titanium-based frames. The glasses provide a lower access point to the brand for customers, given that sunglasses mostly range in price from $375 to $1,200. Some limited edition looks, however, reach upward of $3,500. Kieselstein-Cord also joined forces with Portolano for cashmere items and leather gloves and reached a product license with Steuben Glass for crystal and glassware. Gloves retail from $350 and up and cashmere pieces from $350 to $5,000. Steuben licensed products will include collectible glass art and large bowls, glassware and objet d ’art, starting at $200. All of the products will be available at Kieselstein-Cord stores and will be wholesaled to outside retailers as well. The company, which is further exploring growth opportunities in the fields of fragrance and timepieces, hopes to build annual sales from about $50 million to $300 million in the
next five years. In the meantime, Kieselstein-Cord says, “if someone came along and said [we] should be a larger company, I’m not opposed to that.”
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.