PARIS — The accessories market has been buffeted by change in recent years: Explosive growth in the contemporary sector effectively stole the luxury “It” bag’s thunder, offering consumers trendy, Instagram-friendly — and better-priced — alternatives.
Now the contemporary market — and handbags in particular — may have become the victim of its own success, with Paris showrooms crammed with new brands that all want a piece of the accessories space, which remains dominated by mega labels.
The brands that stood out in Paris have been carving their own niches and steering clear of aggressive influencer placements, which often can lead to labels going boom, then bust.
Medea is one such label. It has long opted to gift its bags to artists, musicians and friends rather than fashion influencers, and has stayed true to its creative pursuits, collaborating with the likes of Nan Goldin, and most recently, Judith Burstein. The aim is to create limited-edition pieces that complement its signature leather tote, which is designed to resemble a paper bag.
Ratio et Motus is another name to note. Having just graduated from Net-a-porter’s Vanguard program for up-and-coming designers, the label is now looking to expand distribution globally and to build its own retail channels.
“We’ve already expanded to 22 doors for fall, including Mytheresa, Tsum, Nordstrom and Essence,” said the brand’s cofounder Daniel Li.
“Our partnership with Net-a-porter allowed us to do things at a different scale; we learnt how to work with wholesalers and operate on a scale. But we don’t want to make our distribution too wide or completely rely on wholesale. As a young brand, working with stores helps with exposure and cash flow, but we’ll also be launching our own e-commerce in January and collaborating with 3-D artists to showcase all the special features in our bags.”
The brand has broadened its collection, marrying the vintage elements from its popular top-handle bags with more modern ones in the form of sequin totes, and creating a cool cross-body style that opens up like a toolbox with separate compartments.
The right amount of newness is key to staying relevant, according to Net-a-porter’s global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz.
“What’s key for these brands is that they bring newness — new shapes, new ideas, all whilst staying true to their brand DNA so that a customer can instantly recognize one of their designs. With this in mind, brands have to come up with innovative designs in order to cut through.”
She said the contemporary market also allows for “a more playful, directional aesthetic, as it’s an easier price point in which to tap in and out of trends. Keeping momentum is key, branching out into new categories, like say Staud has done, and adapting and moving with the trends is the main way to stay relevant in the market,” von der Goltz said.
She pointed to Sant, another newcomer to the retailer’s Vanguard program, which she said stood out for its “modern approach to a baguette bag.”
In the contemporary world, the footwear market has seen the most development this season. It might have been slow to catch up to the handbag sector, but now it seems ready to take off. Many brands that established themselves with bags, including Wandler, Elleme, The Volon and Manu Atelier, are now tackling footwear — and seeing quick response at retail.
“Wandler shoes are really stealing the show at the moment. The designer’s namesake ‘Elza’ thong sandal is sure to be her next hit shoe,” von der Goltz said.
Icelandic label Kalda was among the first to plant a flag in the contemporary footwear space, picking up wholesale partners such as Selfridges, Browns, Liberty London and Harvey Nichols.
“Luxury buyers are becoming more open to contemporary shoes and the market is still growing. It hasn’t reached saturation yet. As customers become more conscious, we are offering an alternative to anyone who wants to level up from the high street,” said designer Kata Alda, adding that at her price point, getting the right factory is a “make or break” factor.
While contemporary designs may have stolen the “It” bag’s spotlight — and begun to put pressure on high-end footwear — it has not eclipsed premium luxury consumption.
Von der Goltz would argue that consumers remain hungry for a variety of products.
“Our customer loves luxury and will always buy luxury, but is equally excited by new emerging brands in the contemporary world. So the two can absolutely thrive simultaneously,” she said, adding that in the premium sector it’s harder for new names to break through while luxury megabrands continue to lead the way.
“Heritage brands such as Saint Laurent, Loewe, Givenchy and Valentino remain a core part of our buy, and one of the reasons our customers return to us each season.”
Indeed, a lot of hits emerged on big brands’ runways this season.
Buyers were quick to praise Loewe for broadening its footwear range, as well as offering a bigger variety of handbag styles, including leather and raffia bucket bags and chic evening clutches done in white leather.
Valentino’s new tonal Rockstud flat sandals, Givenchy’s woven leather oversize clutches and Saint Laurent’s slouch boots were other big hits, while retailers also pointed to Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne. They said he stole the spotlight with his fringe metallic, plexiglass disco bags and broader shoe range.