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The Accessories Council’s annual ACE Awards will mark its 20th anniversary on Aug. 2. The event, which has changed course from its typical November schedule in deference to the presidential election, will pay homage to the year’s best in the accessories market — designers who have succeeded in a challenging consumer landscape.

Karen Giberson, Accessories Council president since 2005, said of the event’s history, “Through this list, you can look back in history at some of the brands that have won and [remained] a big part of the landscape — in 2005 Tory Burch won for brand launch.”

While the Accessories Council is best known for the ACE Awards, it conducts fund-raisers, summits and events year-round. But the ACE is “our biggest fund-raiser of the year; we are a not-for-profit and rely on revenue from all our events to continue to put money back into the council. The ACE is one of 30 events we will do this year.”

To meet the challenges of uncertainty and consumer resistance, the council holds round-table workshops to help members brainstorm solutions. “Store traffic is down, and accessories are impulse items. You don’t wake up and think ‘I need a new scarf,'” she said. “I think people need to be creative and make sure products are of-the-moment. We’re bringing in a team from Wharton do to an all-day session with thought-provoking discussions about what’s working in other industries and what we can do and new ways of thinking about business.”

Among this year’s winners are Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Fisher, Paul Andrew, Kering and Coach — which now stands as the most decorated ACE winner, with five total laurels. Each winner discussed the challenging consumer environment, and what winning an award amid such turmoil means to them.

 

Kering, Sustainability Award — Laurent Claquin, Head of The Americas:
“To me, sustainability is quality and taking care of everything that is around us from a business point of view. A sustainable business is a smart business. Accessories are key for our business. We are an industry that is highly driven by offer, not demand. When you have a strong brand and strong creativity, there is still room for growth and opportunity. Look at Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Brioni — all growing because of investing more in creativity and talent…A unique point of view differentiates you, and you do that through creativity.”

Ray-Ban, Brand of the Year — Fabrizio Uguzzoni, President, Luxottica Wholesale North America:
“We rarely get to stop and look back, and [with this award] we’ve had the opportunity look back on last year; I would say we did a lot on Ray-Ban, not only the launch of Club Round [style] but new icons. Sunglasses are a visible accessory, they are right on your face — impossible to hide. The product allows you to express yourself.”

Paul Andrew, Brand Launch — Paul Andrew:
“I love dressing multiple generations of women. I was recently in Bergdorf Goodman overlooking my collection, and I saw a family of a grandmother, mother and a daughter shopping — they came across my shoes and all walked away with a pair. I think you have to stay ahead of the game but always stay within your vocabulary.”

MCM, Trendsetter Award — Patrick Valeo, President:
“It’s our 40-year anniversary this fall. We have not seen the slowdown that a lot of our competition has because we have a very clean distribution. We will open our first and only outlet this month in Orlando. What we’ve seen is that when brands focus on outlets, it dilutes the brand. We have very high sell-through at full price because we are not saturated and have expanded carefully and cautiously. You can buy an MCM leather bag from $800 to $1,100 — a lot of our competition is priced at $1,500 to $2,000. In the past three to four years, we’ve seen anywhere from double to triple growth.”

Marie Claire, Media Award — Anne Fulenwider, Editor In Chief:
“Accessories somehow feel less daunting for many women, more accessible. Too often, it can feel like the accessories come second to ‘fashion,’ when for so many women, the accessories sometimes inspire the entire look. Nothing tells the story of who you are than what’s in your jewelry box, right? Those are the pieces that usually tell the best stories about the woman who wears them. I am proud that we are living in an era in which women splurge on themselves — they don’t necessarily wait for a man to gift them something truly special. Accessories are what sells. In large part, it is because they are so democratic. You don’t need to be a sample size to rock the latest ‘It’ bag or fabulous shoe. So in this way, accessories are hugely important to the fashion industry.”

Vera Bradley, Humanitarian of the Year — Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, Cofounder:
“We are changing and evolving and find that we have a very loyal customer. We continue to retain that customer, which shows us that we have to keep reaching out for the next generation. Everyone talks about Millennials and what they want. We feel we have to address all that and continue to stay relevant, not just in one look. You’ll notice with Vera Bradley a lot of changes. Before, everything we did for years was in quilted cotton, but now we have leather, nylon, paper products, hair accessories, jewelry — all kinds of things. It’s fun, I find it challenging — more fun than doing the same things over and over. It’s an interesting time to be involved with accessories.”

Bergdorf Goodman, Retailer of the Year — Joshua Schulman, President:
“Accessories are such a vital part of how women dress and express their identity and their tribe. Our Main Floor launch coincides with a burst of creativity from our designer partners…especially [our] collaboration on 28 exclusive handbags from houses ranging from Dior to Goyard to Proenza Schouler and Chloé.”

“The Good Wife,” Style Influencer Award — Dan Lawson, Costume Designer:
“If clothes don’t support the story in a TV show, then the clothes have failed. It’s so important to me that clothes help tell a story and are part of the whole parcel. Right off the bat, shoes were really important to me. A good heel on a businesswoman speaks volumes. It’s feminine and really strong and makes a beautiful silhouette — it helps posture immensely.”

Julianna Margulies:
“Dan made me feel so powerful and really helped bring out my character — I tried things that I would never wear in real life, and accessories really helped to tell that story.”

Sarah Jessica Parker, Brand Visionary — Sarah Jessica Parker:
“We had a pretty good year. We are a new business, so as we grow there is some winning and some losing — because the more you stretch, the more you invest in the company, the less money you make. Every time you take on new retail partner is a significant investment. We are trying to be smart about the way we handle our money and the way we make choices. I, too, have heard grumblings about the market being hurt a little bit. The more informed the consumer is, and the more careful she is about the goods she purchases — that’s good for everyone. It’s about being incredibly vigilant about offering something well-made. I don’t have marketing dollars for p.r. or advertising campaigns, we rely solely on the quality of product. Our shoes do a lot of the talking for us. I do make a particular point of trying to travel and spend time with customers. [We’re] in Bloomingdale’s — we now finally have a store in New York, so I can go by there once or twice a month, not a personal appearance, just me and the customer on the floor helping people find shoes and asking how the fit is, how the comfort is, how our collection fits into her life.”

Jennifer Fisher, Influencer Award — Jennifer Fisher:
“Every season I get pressure from large retailers wanting to carry my fine jewelry and I refuse to sell it to anyone — I plan to open more of my own stores. The key with accessories is changing the model a bit. People are shopping online, going direct to designers or shopping from retailers online….We’ve actually cut most small retailers from our stockists and are relaunching our web site. We’re looking to drive shoppers directly to my web site….It’s really interesting how much jewelry I’m selling via Snapchat.”

Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Business Leadership — Michael Stanley, managing director:
“Accessories are a very meaningful part of the fashion world, generating in excess of $50 billion at retail. The category has grown to become a significant part of our portfolio.”

Coach, Designer of the Year — Stuart Vevers:
“I wanted Coach to become first and foremost a fashion house. I felt that our leather goods needed to be anchored to an ownable Coach look and spirit. To be able to tell a richer story, we needed to have a tangible image of the Coach guy and girl. I deliberately didn’t limit myself to Coach’s heritage. I wanted to trust my instinct on how Coach could be relevant today. The heritage is there, but it’s in the past. I am focused on the present and on relevance, not on an Old World idea of luxury. Then I can look to the future and consider what the next generation will care about.
“I think the best brands today are making great fashion that is strengthened by their heritage, but not dictated by it. Our runway show during New York Fashion Week allowed us to immediately establish a fashion identity for Coach and start a new conversation about the house. And it was my opportunity to say ‘Look, things have changed and it’s a new day at Coach.’ Everyone at Coach has been working on an idea of a Coach guy and girl that I made sure was clear and consistent from the word ‘go.’ I set the direction, and it was crucial to define it immediately. The positive industry reaction to the first season also gave me the confidence to reinforce that vision season after season.”

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