The accessories market is abuzz with new names, particularly in the contemporary sector, where young designers have been able to encourage a shift from “designer to design” as Moda Operandi’s fashion director Lisa Aiken suggests. These brands are bringing together sweet-spot price points with luxury quality — that can often match that of their premium luxury counterparts — and trendy, highly photogenic designs.
As the contemporary opportunity grows, however, more and more brands have been wanting in, saturating the market. Here, WWD highlights the up-and-coming names that have carved their own niches by experimenting with new categories, building their own retail channels and offering the right amount of newness each season.
Medea: Italian sister duo Camilla and Giulia Venturini launched handbag brand Medea a mere year-and-a-half ago. Their artistic approach and luxurious reimagining of the humble paper bag quickly took off and garnered the attention of big retail players like Selfridges, Net-a-porter and Farfetch, despite the sisters’ low-key approach that has kept them far away from the aggressive influencer placements some accessories brands in the sector often resort to.
For spring, the aim was to ensure that the brand continues its upward trajectory with sleek, triangular-shaped clutches that can also open flat, new handmade leather straps and a slouchy version of their signature paper-bag style. “We always wanted to have an element of storytelling and this was a last-minute idea that came from seeing someone sit on a paper bag at a party until it got completely twisted. We thought it would be great to own this busted version of the paper bag, too, and add more color,” said the Venturini sisters.
Artist collaborations are also at the core of the brand. For fall, the designers printed images of Nan Goldin on their signature totes, and this season they tapped New York-based artist Judith Bernstein. Some of Bernstein’s previously censored sketches, as well as a specially commissioned illustration of the brand’s name, are printed on the totes that will be sold at specialty stores like Broken Arm or Dover Street Market. “It’s a step forward for us. Before we would only license artists’ works, but now we also commissioned something, which opens up a deeper dialogue with the artist,” said the designers, who were drawn to Bernstein’s feminist agenda. “Bigger brands tend to approach male artists, so it’s important for us to be doing this.”
Wandler: The Dutch brand made a name for itself for its moon-shaped totes served in striking colors from deep cobalt blues to lime greens and lilacs. But it was the label’s shoe launch earlier this year that saw more widespread success across retail, Instagram and the streets. Designer Elza Wandler found that she has more room “to go crazy” and experiment in the footwear department, offering sharp silhouettes, including plenty of trendy square-toe styles, sculptural heels and unexpected color combinations. Part of her formula has also been her sharp focus when it comes to the brand’s positioning: She insists that even though the label is more accessibly-priced, it is placed in luxury departments alongside brands like Loewe. “People make it about the price, but for me it’s about the aesthetic and the quality and our brand is mature in its design and caters to very discerning customers, too. It’s not just for young girls,” said the designer.
To cater to the brand’s more mature client, Wandler added a sleek tote to the mix, designed to fit a laptop and all of a woman’s day needs. The brand’s baguette-style Georgia bag is also getting a stronger push for spring, given the positive response it received when it launched earlier this year. “We do want to expand wholesale more but slowly. We’ll only be opening 15 additional accounts this season because we want to sustain this growth and build on our relationships with existing partners so that customers learn that they can find us at those top-tier retailers,” added Wandler.
Okhtein: The handbag label, which was founded in 2014 by Egypt-based sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf, quickly stood out in the sea of all-minimal brands that took over the contemporary market in the last few years. The Abdelraouf sisters took the bolder, more maximalist route, drawing inspiration from their own heritage and designing structured totes featuring elaborate brass work — which also gives them the chance to work with artisans in their home country.
Given the statement-making nature of the bags, celebrity attention came quickly with Beyoncé and Cardi B among the biggest fans, as well as key stockists like Selfridges and Moda Operandi.
The designers are ready to broaden their audience base with a wider offer of handbag styles and sunglasses. There was an array of more easygoing, relatable options in the form of structured leather totes featuring cool plexiglass frames and handles. “We wanted to make sure that we are still offering something different to what’s in the market right now,” said the Abdelraoufs, who are also keen to keep their brass signatures coming back every season. “The feedback has always been that it’s a niche style, but it’s what feeds the whole brand. The other day, a picture of Rihanna and Cardi B, with her Okhtein brass bag in the background went once again viral, reassuring us that we need to keep bringing it back.”
The sunglasses range takes the same niche approach with oversize round shapes and influencer-friendly micro ones, featuring brass or plexi frames to create “a handmade, collectible” feel.
Among the designers’ main goals is to penetrate the U.S., Asian and Russian markets further. “We see that there is potential from the number of orders we get on our own e-commerce site from these regions, so we want to build our physical distribution there,” said the Abdelraoufs, who are also investing in a business-to-business AI-powered service that will allow potential buyers to log on to the brand’s site and track the styles being ordered at each market to help “minimize the risk” in their own buys.
Miista: Footwear label Miista has been focusing on the contemporary sector of the footwear market, which has been growing at a slower pace than the handbag category.
Miista, which is based in East London and produced in Spain, has already built a dedicated following for its cool platform boots and woven pumps, as well as strong direct-to-consumer business, with stores in London’s Chelsea, Paris’ Marais district and Barcelona.
This season the brand has gone the extra mile to engage its fashionable audience with events during Copenhagen, New York, London and Paris fashion weeks. In New York, the brand is testing its retail business with a five-week pop-up done in a sustainable manner: It only holds one size per product in-store, so customers can visit and try things on to get familiar with the brand and then order online.
In the meantime, in Paris the brand presented its spring 2020 range, which included more experimentation with unusual materials, from heels made with recycled bottle caps to woven raffia boots and stretch-tulle mules.
A small range of handbags, made using interwoven ribbons in bright shades, also made its debut and will retail at similar contemporary price points as the shoes. “We cut all the middlemen by controlling our own production and sales and use a lot more data to analyze how much stock we need to stay competitive,” said Miista’s founder and designer Laura Villasenin.
Paris Texas: Annamaria and Margherita Brivio started Paris Texas to fill the gap for good-quality, accessibly priced shoes they noticed when buying for their Milan-based multibrand store Norrgatan. After building a strong base in Italy, the brand’s visibility exploded internationally thanks to influencer placement during last year’s fashion show circuit — the likes of Chiara Ferragni, Eva Chen and Emily Ratajkowski are fans — and support from key international retailers like Frwrd, Browns and Selfridges. The formula for the Brivio sisters is to follow market trends but offer their own take in the form of playful colors and comfortable, fuss-free styles.
For spring this meant strappy and thong kitten-heel sandals in croc-effect leather and bold pink hues, as well as wedges featuring florals printed on top of the brand’s signature croc leather and slouchy boots reworked in bright pink and orange, which are proving to be the colors of the season.
“Our silhouettes are simple, but we offer them in daring colors and great price points so that customers have room to experiment. It’s natural for us to follow trends being buyers and hearing constant feedback from brands, clients and friends,” said Annamaria Brivio.
As their maximalist aesthetic gains traction, the Brivio sisters also quietly launched a small ready-to-wear range dubbed Andamane that features mainly silk dresses in equally bright colors and prints.
An e-commerce site that brings the story of the brand alive is also in the works, as well as events and pop-ups with some of the brand’s key retailers.