LONDON — In a period when the world is encouraged to nestle at home and minimize social interactions, it was only a matter of time before women’s previously insatiable appetite for It-bags, high heels and statement jewels waned.
The spring 2021 market reflected those mood swings as accessories designers — the majority of which replaced their usual trip to Paris with digital-only showrooms — swapped high heels for fuzzy slippers, Instagrammable micro bags for roomy and far more practical leather totes, and newness for trusted classics.
Some categories proved more resilient than others, with jewelry very much leading the way.
“Jewelry is a category of its own. It doesn’t follow trends in the way ready-to-wear does and holds a certain value that can last forever. That’s why as COVID-19 hit, people focused on buying jewelry over clothing and many brands saw an uptick in sales,” said Maria Kastani, whose showroom represents the Athens-based jewelry label Katerina Makriyianni.
Makriyianni, alongside Kastani, were among the first to spark the oversize earring trend with the label’s upbeat fan-shaped earrings. But the brand has now managed to evolve its offer far beyond its original hit, with beaded necklaces, more delicate earrings made using colorful silks and evil-eye rings that are all about protection and can double as talismans.
“Pieces can’t just look the part, they have to act the part with an emotionally engaging story to tell and a commitment to craftsmanship,” added Kastani, who has been focused on working with a small number of retail partners on the brand’s next chapter, including Matchesfashion and Lane Crawford.
The need for talismanic, more meaningful jewels has grown amid today’s dire economic and political landscape.
Beirut-based L’atelier Nawbar presented a spring 2021 collection inspired by the now-destroyed architecture of the Lebanese capital and the smashed pieces of colored glass the designers found on the streets after the Aug. 4 explosion.
“Channeling our energy into design has been the only way to move on and deal with the situation. We want to show that if we as businesses keep going, the city will come back,” said Tania Nawbar, who alongside her sister Dima reopened their store three days after the tragic explosion and have been operating it windowless ever since. “We’ve had consistent support, especially from our local clientele. They now appreciate jewelry even more, as an extension of themselves and something they can always keep on for comfort, amidst all the changes.”
Eéra, one of the most prominent new names in the fine jewelry space, has also managed to sustain customer interest and keep evolving its offer beyond the signature neon clip earrings for which the brand first became known.
For spring 2021, designers Chiara Capitani and Romy Blanga added more statement, geometric-shaped earcuffs to the mix; necklaces inspired by military identity tags, and a modern take on the classic tennis bracelets.
“We chose fine jewelry because we wanted to create styles with a new identity that were still durable, as we really believe in the value of a timeless piece. We’ve been very lucky not to see a change, when it comes to customer and retailer [response]. Our brand continued growing steadily,” said Blanga, pointing to the label’s modern identity and the timeless flair of fine jewelry as the winning combination.
“We can definitely see a shift towards very refined and timeless pieces, there were a lot of earcuffs and diamond layering pieces. Brands like Repossi never fail to surprise,” said Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at Mytheresa.com, of the trends in jewelry for spring 2021.
When it came to leather goods, particularly handbags, it’s the established luxury names that have proven to be the most resilient.
“We have noticed that the customer is drawn to the established luxury brands that they know and trust, they are choosing something potentially more practical and long-lasting, as an investment purchase,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-porter.
Buyers are keeping a particularly close eye on the oversize, chain-embellished shoulder bags Matthew Williams presented for his much-anticipated Givenchy debut, as well as Balenciaga’s stretch hourglass bag and grab-and-go clutches by the likes of Loewe and Dries van Noten.
“Matthew Williams gave a really modern and fresh spin on Givenchy bags. We are loving the new hardware updates and the oversize approach,” said Eleanor Robinson, director of accessories at Selfridges.
Buying trends have been back in favor of established luxury names for over a year now, with buyers noticing a point of saturation in the contemporary market and ditching many of the younger, accessibly prized labels to focus on the mega brands.
The pandemic might have exacerbated the situation further as consumers looked for familiar names and investment-worthy, timeless styles — yet against all odds some contemporary accessories labels have managed to hold on to their relevance and sustain consumer engagement.
“As always in times of economic difficulty there is a huge opportunity for contemporary and entry price brands,” said Robinson.
For von der Goltz, the winners in the contemporary market are the brands that have already established “a strong brand DNA.”
Milan-based Medea is one such label, having always stayed focused on its classic tote shape inspired by the paper shopping bag, artistic collaborations and a more punk aesthetic rather than the overly polished look many of its peers have become associated with.
For spring 2021, Medea’s Giulia and Camilla Venturini edited down their range even further with a narrower selection of colors, a sharp focus on their core shape, which now also comes in a softer version, and a single new style added to the mix.
“It’s a historical moment, so we didn’t want to be excessive. It was important to keep it to the core and reflect on the changes in the industry,” said the Venturini sisters, who have been hosting a music series throughout lockdown and growing their community.
The success of the social initiative also put them on Lyst and Highsnobiety’s ranking of emerging brands shaping today’s culture.
“Sometimes we just focus on the product, but it’s the people who are most important,” they added, pointing to the continued importance of letting other creatives into their world. For fall, they are debuting a collaboration with Peter Do and have also used this time to open more conversations with artists, having previously collaborated with the likes of Nan Goldin and Judith Bernstein.
Korean-based contemporary bag label Gu_De had also been responding to the shifting market dynamics by working towards building its own classics, including a series of softer, voluminous-shaped totes.
“The demand for styles that can be used over many seasons is increasing. When creating new collections, I’ve been trying to make practical designs, while reflecting the brand’s vision of the new classic,” said the label’s founder Ji Hye Koo.
There are also the labels that gave up on wholesale completely in favor of direct-to-consumer drop models. London-based Charlotte Simone made the shift this fall with her first collection of pretty faux fur mini totes dropping this month and selling out within days.
I’m excited about moving away from traditional retail and the pressures I’ve often felt to please major retailers and fit strict scheduled deadlines. With this new approach we can deliver limited-edition pieces at times in the year that suit us. With everything that is happening, products have to work harder,” said the label’s founder, Charlotte Beecham.
The uncertainties of the current retail landscape have also rendered the majority of trends irrelevant. In the accessories sector in particular, collections were driven by the need for comfort and practicality first and foremost.
Hence the soft, roomy totes in the bag department and the array of flat options from footwear designers.
Buyers said, though, that even with flats customers want styles with attitude, pointing to Balenciaga’s slides, Loewe’s monogram slip-ons and gladiator sandals by Isabel Marant and Chloé as among the season’s standouts.
Selfridges’ Robinson was among those stressing comfort-first shoe options, including the new Givenchy platform slides, but predicted that high heels are soon to make their comeback.
“Comfort has clearly been the priority for customers through lockdown with trainers, sandals and more recently boots all driving strong growth. Heels clearly don’t have the same relevance right now, although I do see a new trend emerging for dressing up for dinner parties at home. If you can only invite five friends over and you’ve been working from home all week, then why wouldn’t you dress up with some fabulous heels? I think we will see an uptick in party dressing as a result,” she explained.