LONDON — Handbags were probably the first fashion items to be stored away as the COVID-19 outbreak forced consumers to stay close to home. Emerging accessories labels in particular were losing favor even before the crisis as the market became saturated and shoppers turned back to more familiar, heritage names.
But that’s not to say the market is dead or that there are no more success stories.
London-based label Neous, which is best known for its minimalist shoe designs and modernist flair, is proving to be one such exception.
This week, the company is making an ambitious foray into the handbag category, backed by major retailers like Browns, Net-a-porter, Lane Crawford, Harrods and Selfridges. The latter will host a pop-up shop to debut the label’s new bags: Two chic hobo and clutch styles featuring pleated leathers and neutral hues.
“Handbags have always been at the back of my mind, but I very much felt like the market was saturated. At first I was happy to sit out that wave of saturation. However, I soon realized the saturation was in a very specific type of handbag. That type being structured, box-like handbags which I was never really drawn towards,” said the label’s founder and creative director Vanissa Antonious.
“I waited until the collection we had designed felt unique — and until we found the perfect Italian manufacturer. I wished for our products to be ergonomically designed, to move with the flux of the body, to work with [our customer], and not against her.”
Cue the label’s Neptune hobo shoulder bag and its statement Pluto clutch, featuring a unique shell-like shape and delicate micro pleats.
As women restart their lives, Antonious is aiming to offer them a dose of newness — and what she believes is a smart investment.
“Fashion makes us feel good, whether we want to believe that or not. We’ve been talking about this notion a lot with buyers, and I feel there is a sense and yearning for something new and exciting, but at the same time for products that will withstand the test of time and wear,” she said. “As we dress down for our new comfortable lifestyles, I’d say the importance and symbolic nature of accessories could become more important.”
Like every designer, Antonious had to face order cancellations, manufacturing delays and cash flow issues at the beginning of lockdown. Yet the subsequent growth of the brand’s own e-commerce platform amid store closures, and financial support by the British Fashion Council, has helped the company to stay afloat.
“We are trading up on last year, but we are a young brand and I believe growth is easier in the early stages of a business. Our audience is still shopping,” she said, pointing to the popularity of the brand’s scrunched-up ballet flats that speak to today’s need for extra comfort.
“At the moment the consumer is focused on the product. If it speaks to their social standing, they like the design or can associate with the brand’s values, they will consider the product. They have also become more savvy about how much things should cost. I believe that if we continue to offer a unique point of view — at an accessible price point and a great quality ‘made in Italy’ product — the consumer will remain engaged,” the designer said.
Prices for the new bags range between 465 and 560 pounds.
Antonious is also working toward making collections smaller and delivering retailers’ orders “well before any markdowns begin.”
Continuing to “take control” and grow the label’s own sales channel is also a priority, but she still believes in the power of wholesale. “There is a lot of negativity surrounding the wholesale model at the moment, but it is what you make of it. If you select your partners carefully and set your own terms, it can be a rewarding benefit. Collectively [our wholesale partners] really helped us build the brand and generate the global awareness it has today.”