PARIS — A flurry of luxury accessories labels may have presented their fall 2019 collections, but most of the excitement, and innovation, is in the contemporary sector. Labels are continuously cropping up and offering competitive price points, high-quality products and of-the-moment, photogenic designs.
“The most dynamic part of the industry is currently operating in the contemporary space. It offers a bigger element of discovery,” said Moda Operandi’s fashion director Lisa Aiken, who also pointed to a shift “from designer to design” in the handbag category.
Among the most coveted handbag labels is Istanbul-based Manu Atelier, one of the first brands to start offering bags at more accessible price points — ranging from 300 pounds to 500 pounds — and to build a strong community via social media, known as Manu’s People.
The designers behind the label, sisters Merve and Beste Manastir, have kept up momentum by continuously refining their signatures, offering new styles and putting emphasis on the quality of their bags, which are produced in Turkey. The Manastirs’ father, a Turkish leather craftsman, cuts every bag that’s produced at his workshop.
For fall, key styles included a cylinder-shaped bag that had a nostalgic, old-school flair and a belt bag with multiple pockets that could also be worn as a shoulder bag.
“There is a need for newness, but it has to be on-point with our brand and our aesthetic,” said Beste Manastir. “The accessories business is changing, everything is now starting to be an accessory, and in this overwhelming digital world we want to put emphasis on the quality of our product and contemporary element of our designs.”
She said the company is making “a huge effort manufacturing-wise” in order to highlight that this is not just a social media brand. “We are filling the needs of real women, with day-to-day lives and goals to run after.”
Another success story is the Dutch label Wandler, which in just over one year managed to create a cult following around its colorful, moon-shaped bags and partner with the likes of Net-a-porter, Browns, Luisa Via Roma and Barneys New York.
“I wanted to create a series of staples in unique colors and high-quality leather,” said designer Elza Wandler, adding that she sources and produces her bags in Italy using calf leather that is a by-product of the food industry, to ensure that production is more sustainable.
“The idea is that you have the same manufacturers with luxury brands, but smaller marketing budgets, since our overheads are smaller. But if our prices were the same as Gucci there would be no point, people would just buy the big brand,” the designer said.
Wandler has kept developing the brand’s signature Hortensia moon-shaped bag, adding resin handles or leather chain embellishments and re-creating it in a sophisticated stamped, croc-effect leather for fall. She has also added belt bags, mini structured totes and Nineties-inspired baguette bags to the mix.
“The Hortensia might be an ‘It’ bag at the moment, but it’s also a classic, sophisticated style that can live on. We keep playing with the framing and there are 100 different options we can still explore, as it’s important to keep developing,” added Wandler, who has managed to stand out from what is becoming a crowded market by positioning her brand next to big luxury names such as Loewe, Marni and Balenciaga.
“Aesthetic-wise, that’s where the product belongs, the price is separate,” added Wandler, whose price points are similar to those of Manu Atelier.
Other labels at the top of buyers’ lists for the fall market included By Far, whose baguette bags, miniature bucket and tote bags and elegant top-handle bags done in trendy pastels and croc-effect patent leather have become influencer favorites.
There’s also Medea Sisters, an Italian label by Camilla and Giulia Venturini, who are taking an arty approach to bag design yet maintaining accessible price points, ranging from 350 pounds to 650 pounds.
The sisters have re-created the paper shopping bag in sturdy leather and bold, candy colors and aim to use their signature styles as a blank canvas for artists to “offer their own interpretation” of the bag.
They marked their launch with a collaboration with Nan Goldin, who printed some of her raw fashion images on Medea leather shoppers. The bags were quickly picked up by the likes of Selfridges, Net-a-porter, Opening Ceremony and Dover Street Market.
“We want to create a world around the brand and show the bags on musicians, actors and friends who would wear them day-to-day. We don’t do any influencer placement and aim to keep distribution quite close,” said Venturini.
Even though more and more brands are cropping up and looking to tap into the contemporary opportunity, the market is still far from saturation point and there’s plenty of room for growth, according to buyers.
“The beauty of the contemporary world is that, because of the price point, the brands are able to keep being creative in both settings and reacting to trends. The price point allows customers to buy into newness and trend-led pieces without overthinking the investment,” said Hollie Harding, women’s wear buying manager at Browns, pointing to Wandler, By Far and Tel Aviv-based band Complet as highlights of the season.
“We have a good number of contemporary bag brands and the number is growing. They all keep coming up with new shapes each season and are able to maintain a strong brand identity. I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.”
Tiffany Hsu, Mytheresa.com’s fashion buying director, pointed to the influence of Instagram as a key driver of growth in the contemporary world. “There is always room for growth, because we are in an industry where the demand for newness is incredibly high and where customers are looking for carefully curated edits of these labels,” she said.
French handbag label Elleme also credited Instagram, influencers and the shift toward a customer-centric approach for its “explosive” growth over the last year. The brand, known for its elegant tote bags, said its sales grew 600 percent over the last year and it became Harvey Nichols’ highest-selling handbag label, expanding its distribution across all of the retailer’s doors globally.
“With luxury bags, you would spend up to 2,000 euros on a bag and sometimes become the servant of the bag because it was expensive or fragile and you needed to take care of it. We want to provide the opposite,” said Elleme director Stephane Tieu, adding that by also having a physical store in Paris, the brand was able to stand out from the competition and engage its audience. “There are a lot of brands with the same positioning, and not all of them can succeed,” he added.
Another brand that wants to tap into this promising market is Lancel, which is marking a new chapter under Italy’s Piquadro SpA, having been sold by Compagnie Financière Richemont last summer.
The brand’s new designer Barbara Fusillo presented a collection inspired by the colors and femininity of the Sixties, filling the line with mini-shoulder bags and compact totes done in shiny leather, featuring stud embellishments and a reworked version of the brand’s double “L” logo.
“We want to reach younger people, particularly Millennials. We are working on our price points and our aim is to offer affordable luxury product because Lancel, in its history, has always been about answering people’s needs,” said Fusillo.
Korean-based label The Volon and New York-based Ratio et Motus are taking a slightly different approach and positioning themselves in the middle of the contemporary and luxury categories.
“When a bag is affordable and it becomes a phenomenon, it can only last so long. Growth might be slower if you are positioning yourself between the high contemporary and luxury categories, but it’s better in the long term,” said a spokesperson for The Volon, which has been working to add styles to its collection, including trunk-shaped bags and briefcaselike totes with a vintage allure.
Ratio et Motus, which has been stocked exclusively on Net-a-porter thus far as part of its Vanguard program for new labels, offers Seventies-inspired structured totes that look like a modernized version of something a chic grandmother would wear and prices range from $498 to $1,495.
“The styles that are currently available in the market are a little too trendy. We want to create something of premium quality that can last more than a few seasons,” said the brand’s designer Angela Wang.
Having established themselves in the handbag category, a lot of these up-and-coming labels are turning their attention to shoes, where growth in the contemporary sector has been slower.
By Far has already been leading the category with its mules, cone-shaped heels and sling-back pumps, while Manu Atelier will release its initial collection for fall, which is compact and filled with modernist styles such as square-toe sandals and lace-up boots in luxurious neutral shades.
Ditto for Wandler, whose upcoming collection is filled with pretty floral embellishments, bold hues and rich textures.
“I’m 30, I’m working and I just think it’s not fun to have to pay 1,000 pounds for shoes. I wanted to create a range of shoes you can afford and enjoy,” added Wandler.
The Volon is preparing to launch a shoe capsule with Shopbop as part of its plan to diversify its offer to include footwear, scarves and outerwear, while Elleme has a footwear line cooking for 2020.
“For us it’s more about the brand. We want to push the world of Elleme, not just our one popular bag style. That’s why we have different styles catering to different tastes and are looking to add new categories,” said Tieu, pointing to upcoming retail openings across Asia and Japan.
Another label to note is Paris Texas, launched just under a year ago by sisters Annamaria and Margherita Brivio, who leveraged their knowledge gained from running Baltimore Studio, a sales showroom in Milan, and the multibrand store Norrgatan.
Their signature snakeskin boots — priced between 360 pounds and 690 pounds — caused a social media storm, when the likes of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski were seen in them. For fall, the brand was ready to make a bolder statement and offer a broader collection that extended to fierce thigh-high boots, cowboy boots featuring playful metallic fringing or sequined and metallic croc-effect styles with comfortable, sturdy heels.
Given the success of their maximalist world, the Brivio sisters are adding their love of animal-print and all things sparkly to a small collection of wrap dresses, midiskirts and cropped tops, designed to match the shoes.
With footwear, innovation isn’t only limited to the contemporary world. A number of luxury labels have been emerging and providing a more lavish, fantasy-fueled vision.
Ada Kokosar’s Midnight 00 label — known for its take on the modern Cinderella slipper with patterned heels covered in ruffled PVC — is leading the way. What started as a collaboration with Cesare Paciotti has evolved into a stand-alone brand with an ever-growing range.
For fall, Kokosar introduced an organic fabric with the same functions as PVC and her first flat styles in the shape of moccasins and pointed-toe designs.
“From the beginning, my purpose was to create styles which were unique, and I always try to stick to this when designing a new collection,” said Kokosar of her Maria Callas-inspired fall range filled with polka dots and lush velvets.
A full Midnight 00 look is in the works for the spring 2020 season.
Malone Souliers, which belongs solely to Mary Alice Malone and with a new chief executive officer on board, also has plans to expand in the luxury space with a men’s wear collection and its eyes on China in particular.
Malone said her aim is to refine the brand’s signatures, like its strappy mules, to introduce styles and to revel in all things feminine. For fall, she showed crystal-encrusted fuchsia ankle boots, furry slides and velvet mules with pearl embellishments.
Mytheresa’s Hsu said these brands are competitively priced alongside some of the retailer’s bestsellers, such as Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin, “which also highlights the quality and craftsmanship within these new labels. Midnight 00 is a great example and we know our customers are always willing to take risks when it comes to such statement, color-pop pieces that experiment with fabrics.”
Heritage labels have been working to keep up with the fast-paced changes in the industry and revive themselves.
Christian Louboutin introduced “Run Loubi Run,” its first collection of luxury runners, and promoted it with a campaign, created with indie magazine Wonderland, while Roger Vivier, which is under creative director Gherardo Felloni, launched an immersive presentation to breathe life into some of Vivier’s revived archival styles, such as the Courbette heel, a charming Mary Jane pump featuring a curved heel and a big bow.
For historic handbag labels such as Delvaux and Moynat, the answer is to keep a focused vision, and to demonstrate craftsmanship.
Moynat, which plans to celebrate its 170th birthday this year in Paris, is adding more fashion to its collections, with trendy wristlets in the shape of oval hat boxes or upside-down triangles and engraved hardware, while the rest of its line remains focused on classic satchel shapes or chic top-handle styles.
For Delvaux, the aim was to experiment with new techniques and showcase skills of its craftsmen with a fall line that featured some of its classic tote styles reworked using 3-D leather techniques that replicated the effect of smocking on leather or corduroy fabrics.
While in contemporary, croc-effect, stamped leather or snakeskin prints may be the way to go, luxury brands remain committed to exotic skins to cater to their high-end clientele.
“The exotics business in Europe is becoming smaller — Selfridges has just announced the banning of exotic skins. But there is still demand, particularly in the Asian markets, and we have a history of being able to provide the best quality out there,” said a spokeswoman for Moynat.