PARIS — It was just over a year ago when contemporary accessories labels started claiming a bigger share of the market and challenging luxury players with accessible price points, Instagram-friendly designs and a legion of influencers promoting them and creating digital buzz.
However, it looks like the bubble is getting ready to burst as more and more new names wanted to tap into the opportunity, creating a saturated space. Retailers are already editing down their contemporary offers — there’s only so much mock croc and mini candy-colored totes one can take.
The shift is also tied into the more conscious consumerist attitude the industry is slowly moving toward, with key luxury styles from the likes of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Saint Laurent and Valentino moving to the top of shoppers’ wish lists.
“The shift is continuing, but is particularly prevalent in everyday bags. Customers are making more considered purchases in regard to sustainability — buying and investing now to wear forever,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net-a-porter’s global buying director.
Ida Petersson, Browns’ men’s and women’s wear buying director echoed her thoughts: “I hear and feel that our customers are looking for quality and longevity, they’re after forever pieces that they can keep in their wardrobe with good maintenance and love for years to come. The classic black tote at Saint Laurent as well as Gucci’s iconic shapes are doing particularly well for us this season.”
Megabrands delivered many winning styles on the Paris catwalks, from Loewe’s new Flamenco bag, reworked with bigger crystal embellishments, to Saint Laurent’s classic black tote and Valentino’s “grab and go” red woven oversize clutch, which von der Goltz singled out as one of the biggest hits.
Mytheresa’s fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu also pointed to luxury brands “implementing a differentiated price architecture with their bag offering” becoming even more competitive, with a wide range of price points.
While there are big challenges in the contemporary space, some young names have managed to hold on to their relevance by establishing a distinct aesthetic and offering enough newness every season to keep customers excited.
“The importance here is for the brands to continue to explore new silhouettes and move their range on whilst maintaining the core offering; it’s very dangerous to rely on one shape in this field as the customer moves on so quickly,” explained Petersson, pointing to the likes of Manu Atelier, Wandler and Staud, as some of the labels that still receive positive customer response.
“It’s getting hard, but we’ve been working a lot to keep improving our quality and offer exciting new styles,” said Merve Manastir, who runs Istanbul-based Manu Atelier alongside her sister Beste. Their father, a leather craftsman, still cuts the pattern for every bag produced.
The label’s association with luxury craftsmanship and the ability to reinvent its signatures has proven to be a winning formula: For fall, the label nixed a lot of earlier hit styles, like the camera bag, and introduced new ones, including oversize totes, structured envelope clutches and more sophisticated logo hardware.
While bags remain the biggest growth driver, the footwear launch last year also helped sustain the momentum, as did the association of higher-profile names with the label: A campaign featuring Lara Stone and styled by Alex Carl was seen all over Paris at the start of market season.
Having famous supporters, beyond the usual influencer crowd, helped Amsterdam-based Wandler stand out, too, and build a high enough profile that allows it to sit next to big luxury names. It counts Rihanna, the Hadids and Priyanka Chopra among fans.
“The price point might be slightly lower, but quality and design-wise, we want to be seen next to luxury players, you just get a lot more out of the product,” said Wandler, who has focused on key bag styles, including her moon-shaped totes and baguette styles, for fall and evolved her footwear range to statement thigh-high boots and chunky square toe mules.
Other contemporary labels still holding on to their relevance include Medea, which chose to forego influencer marketing from the get-go, in favor of building an artistic community with a few signature products and seasonal collaborations with the likes of Nan Goldin, Judith Bernstein and London-based emerging designer Kiko Kostadinov.
“We managed not to destroy the brand, by being more selective at a time when there were so many requests. We’re focusing on doing more events with customers and reworking our signatures. We don’t need a new bag every season and it’s on us to educate people not to feel that need. It’s a waste,” said Medea’s cofounders and twin sisters Camilla and Giulia Venturini. “People don’t want to change so quickly, it’s often the retailers that are trying to move trends, probably a little too fast.”
Ratio et Motus, which was backed by Net-a-porter as part of its Vanguard program for emerging names, has also been constantly expanding its distribution in markets like Russia and Asia and adopting a similar attitude, by focusing on classic shapes and luxe materials, even if the bags are more accessibly priced.
“We want to do luxury and that’s about a constant habit of editing. People are going back to luxury and that’s the right mind-set to sustain a business,” said the label’s cofounder Daniel Li.
Sticking to a niche, instead of riding trend waves, seems to be the way to go, to stay in retailers’ favor, too: “As the market has become so saturated, our strategy is to focus on the strengths of individual brands and not duplicate across the styles and silhouettes we buy into,” said Net’s von der Goltz.
On the footwear front, there is more room for growth: The shoe categories for the likes of Wandler, Manu Atelier and Bulgarian label By Far are still in expansion mode, while on the luxury front, Amina Muaddi, who keeps her collections under wraps but teased a partnership with Mytheresa.com during Paris Fashion Week, is still amassing long waiting lists.
“There is a lot of development in footwear at the moment and not just in the contemporary sector — it’s across all price points, which is exciting. Our customers are also loving Studio Amelia, By Far and newcomer A.W.A.K.E is flying out the door,” said Petersson.
At Mytheresa.com, Hsu also pointed to the growth of the category, with additions including Souliers Martinez, Aeyde and Nodaleto.
There’s more robust movement in the fashion and fine jewelry sectors, too, where new names are cropping up and filling the gap for more elevated, fashion-forward jewels.
Alessandra Rich remains a force to be reckoned with, with her statement earrings, while new names like stylist Nausheen Shah’s collaboration with Monica Sordo; Timeless Pearly, and Bea Bongiasca, known for its colorful vines of enamel and gold, are also gaining ground.