NEW YORK — “Original.”
This story first appeared in the March 31, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That was the word Dee Hilfiger chose to describe her new line of handbags, simply titled Dee Ocleppo. After a brief hiatus, the designer, and wife of Tommy Hilfiger, is reentering the accessories market with a new objective: luxury. Hilfiger introduced a line of customizable handbags on HSN in 2011, under the name “Deesigns by Dee Ocleppo.” Inspired by her first childhood bag, a vintage purse with a cotton cover that could be buttoned off, the line featured bags with removable swatches of reversible, decorative fabric. Despite selling well, with retail prices around the $100 mark, Hilfiger wasn’t quite satisfied.
“I wanted to do luxury,” she said. “I had this dream that I wanted to do it in Italy, so I did go over and start making samples for myself.”
After reworking the bags, now with reversible covers in exotic skins and furs, she went to her friend Marigay McKee, then chief merchant of Harrods, for feedback. To her surprise, McKee placed an order for spring 2014 for Harrods on the spot. “I wasn’t pitching. I just wanted her advice,” said Hilfiger. “She was like, ‘Great, I love them, I’ll take them.’ It caught me a little off guard. All of a sudden, I found myself in business. It wasn’t exactly how I expected to do it, but I dove in headfirst.”
Following the exclusive run at Harrods, Hilfiger is gearing up for her first full-fledged season with a new showroom in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, and a new collection. For fall, Hilfiger is showing a full range of new styles, including shopper totes, clutches and cross-body bags, with “jackets” in materials such as fox fur, python, crocodile, ostrich and suede. Bags are sold with the reversible jackets, essentially giving consumers three different looks in one. “I feel, definitely, that we found an original voice to come into the market,” she said. “There’s a reason that we’re here. It’s not because I’m bored and we’re making bags.”
With a larger retail push in sight, Hilfiger is learning the challenges of entering an already saturated market. “I have a whole new respect for my husband, and anybody in design. It’s a tough grind, whether it’s dealing with the factories or buyers,” she said. “It’s a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. A lot of times when you’re new to the industry, you have to convince people why they should be in your store. The tendency is to go with whatever is safe, or a big brand. I’m a small brand. I’m not a Balenciaga, I’m not a Louis Vuitton.”
Therein, she notes, lies the beauty of offering something original. “We all love a Hermès bag, but a lot of women have them. These are kind of fun because they are just as luxurious and made in the same factories, but they are different. You’re not going to have the same bag, and by the way, if you walk into a party and someone has the same bag, you can just flip the cover,” Hilfiger said.
She hasn’t hesitated to turn to her husband while dealing with the unfamiliar landscape. “The best advice he’s given me is to keep it small and stay focused,” she said. For his part, Tommy Hilfiger defers any creative input, saying that he only offers business advice. “She knows exactly what she likes and what she doesn’t,” he said during a quick stop in the showroom to examine the newly finished space. “There is nothing like them. You can find exotic bags, but not with reversible covers. It’s like three bags in one.”
Dee Hilfiger will preview the fall collection to select press today. The line, which ranges from $595 for a clutch to $12,000 for a crocodile tote with python and fox fur, will hit stores in late August and early September. Confirmed retailers include Harrods and select Saks Fifth Avenue locations, as well as saks.com. E-commerce on Deeocleppo.com is also planned to roll out around this time. “Last season we were just dipping our toe in the water,” Hilfiger said. “Now I have a real business.”