Buyers have gotten what they’ve asked for. Beleaguered by reports that luxury accessories sales have been hit by stagnant design and consumer “fatigue,” retailers say that accessory “innovations” for spring could spark a further turnaround.
“I think there was a time where everything looked the same and [now] I’m definitely seeing a shift toward innovation — I think that designers are really looking at putting more newness out there and creating things that the customer doesn’t already have,” said Neiman Marcus’ fashion director for women’s accessories Ana Maria Pimentel.
Her comments were echoed by multiple high-end retailers. And in offering newness, designers have also spurred a new model of commerce. Rather than choosing to dictate overarching trends, labels appear to be applying their signature aesthetics to large swaths of product in the interest of appealing to multiple consumers — enabling a sense of newfangled individuality at retail.
“It’s less about overarching stories. I could highlight a few [trends], but almost always it was individual items that stood out — specific pieces are what is driving desire more than ‘we are moving to a certain shape of shoe.’ We are moving to individual pieces,” said Net-a-porter fashion director Lisa Aiken.
That concept extended to shoes, bags and costume jewelry — the latter of which is experiencing a major resurgence.
Brands that appeared to wage the most influence this runway season were entirely European, particularly from Milan and Paris. New York-based labels did not appear to capture as much interest. Heavy-hitters include Loewe, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s solo debut at Valentino, Anthony Vaccarello’s debut at Saint Laurent, Chloé, Bouchra Jarrar’s debut at Lanvin, Prada, Céline and Balenciaga.
Runway shoes ran a large gamut — from the pool slides at Prada, to midheels at Chanel, and stilettos, notably spotted at Vaccarello’s inaugural Saint Laurent outing.
“I think we are seeing a very good combination of very good high heels at Saint Laurent and Balenciaga and various flats, some good evening flats at Lanvin — I think there is a really good cross-section of all different customers,” said Matches’ buying director Natalie Kingham. “I think there is a real sense of your personal style. All brands have such strong DNA and this allows you to buy into your style, your taste — there’s a good selection of different shoes and trends that allow you to dress appropriately for whatever lifestyle,” she added.
Said Roopal Patel, Saks Fifth Avenue’s senior vice president, fashion director: “I think right now, you are starting to see sporty slides, ornamented slides, jeweled slides, the return of the everyday slide and others that are very strong and very directional with ankle wraps, as well as great stilettos at Gianvito Rossi and then flats at Valentino. There is a nice assortment at different heel heights for every single customer.”
But according to consignment resale site The Real Real — which logs search and purchase data, often mining results that mimic the full-price market — stiletto sales continue to fall flat. “Lower midheels and flats are moving faster,” said chief merchant Rati Sahi Levesque.
On this past season’s runways, handbags also exhibited new ideas and unique perspectives. Buyers appreciated the ring details shown at Chloé, the layered minibags at Valentino and the oversize approach seen at Balenciaga and Céline.
“We are seeing handbag design come to the forefront over just pure function,” said Net-a-porter’s Aiken. Said Neiman’s Pimentel: “I think Céline showed a handbag on almost every look, which hopefully points us in the right direction in terms of the handbag business. That was quite exciting for us.”
“There were two very directional handbag shapes with the return of the small bag at Valentino, the duet of a small compact work with a minibag and the little handheld clutches at Céline and the little saddle at Chloé. Then we saw an extreme — overexaggerated bags at Balenciaga and Céline. I think there’s something for everyone,” said Patel.
Aiken added that brand showrooms offered various iterations of the directional bags seen on the runway — offering even more choices. “The Balenciaga bag was wildly oversize on the runway and the commercial version in the showroom was shown in solid and print, and that’s the kind of style I know we are going to see. It’s not like anything else — there was a mini [size], a medium and then an extra large.”
Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president, fashion, said, “I feel like accessories are becoming so interesting, so compelling — I feel like an accessory used to literally accessorize your self, accessorizing the star which was ready-to-wear. I feel like at this point, accessories are almost the starting point when they are interesting enough. Getting dressed — if you have embellished Gucci shoes — you almost start with something like that.”
Buyers feel that Alessandro Michele of Gucci’s influence has boosted the accessories category, including costume jewelry.
“There is a maximalist movement coming through. The [accessories] category is really a little more lighthearted and playful and I think the personal style element has been inspiring,” said Aiken.
Said Patel: “It’s an exciting time for accessories in regard to newness. We’re starting to see that people, especially in the world of handbags and shoes, apply more novelty, creating more of a reason to buy in the last year than ever before in my opinion. There are a lot more tongue-in-cheek elements.”
Patel added that Gucci has also contributed to a logo-centric mood in the larger industry. “Now we see Loewe and YSL, and Off-White using a logo to give items a cult-y factor. Things had been stripped back for a long time and now we are seeing the power of the logo come back.”
But while critically acclaimed by fashion insiders, logo-heavy merchandise may not be snapped up by a broad swatch of consumers. According to recent research by The NPD Group, consumers — particularly the Millennial age group — now prefer items with subtle logos or no logos at all. Eighty-one percent of Millennials say that purchasing a bag with subtle logos is important to them.