NEW YORK — Cold-weather goods are heating up holiday accessories figures in stores around the country — and not a moment too soon.

Gloves, hats, scarves and mufflers, traditional staples of the season, are scoring big at nearly every level of retailing. Most merchants noted that the boom in this category was a little late in coming, which they blamed on a warmer-than-usual November, and while accessories action has been good throughout the fall season, the cold-weather goods are a key element in holiday figures.

“Thank goodness for cold weather,” said Kim Anderson Curry, divisional merchandise manager of accessories at Sears, Roebuck & Co. “We did have single-digit increases in winter accessories in November, but so far for December we’ve been up in high double digits. Scarves, gloves, hats — everything has been selling.”

Handbags and small leather goods are helping fuel overall year-to-year gains, as are boxed jewelry goods, although fashion jewelry as a whole still appears to be dragging. In general, stores report a number of key categories are showing gains well over the 10 percent mark.

Figures this month have become progressively stronger, “mostly because of the weather,” said Kathy Mayes, senior vice president of merchandising for Federated Merchandising, the buying arm of Federated Department Stores, based in Cincinnati.

Mayes said cold-weather business has just taken off, with cashmere-lined leather gloves and V. Fraas’s Cashmink brand of oversized acrylic plaid and solid mufflers leading sales.

Boxed goods have been strong performers as well, Mayes noted.

“Anything that comes in multiples or in an interesting or reusable box has addressed the demand for value,” Mayes noted.

“Overall, business has come a little later this year, but people are remembering how cold it was last year and are stocking up,” noted Jane Wasserman, accessories and costume jewelry buyer at Bradlees, Braintree, Mass.

Cold-weather items and boxed goods are driving the mass chain’s accessories business now, Wasserman said, led by Hanes Her Way coordinate knits, printed polar fleece and key items at promotional prices, including cuffed hats for $2.99, minigloves for $1.99 and Thinsulate-lined ski gloves for $7.99.

Wasserman said sales of boxed jewelry and other goods retailing from 99 cents to $12.99 have doubled this year. She attributed this primarily to the department store-type presentations the retailer has been using, like displaying merchandise on tables in the aisles, and to novel Christmas motif pieces like three-dimensional items.

Wasserman added that the “gift portion of business seems to come later and later every year.”

“Now that the temperature’s finally down, the whole category of cold-weather goods is selling extremely well,” said Dave Harris, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of accessories for Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Milwaukee.

“Our casual glove business has been particularly good,” Harris said, adding that this category posted year-to-year gains of 30 percent for the first two weeks of December.

Harris said the accessories business was running ahead of last year, with standouts such as handbags by Coach and Dooney & Bourke and small leather goods on strings by Rolfs and Liz Claiborne setting the pace and countering the sluggishness of fashion jewelry.

“We have been selling a lot of bridge jewelry and 14-karat gold earrings at hard-hitting price points,” Harris said. “And fashion watches have been great, with Guess and Fossil leading the pack. The balance of the jewelry business, though, has been tough.”

Gloves have been December’s leading classification at Jacobson’s, Jackson, Mich., but the strongest single item has been a beaded shawl collar from Contessa, according to Kristine Morton, accessories buyer.

“It’s doing so well that we’ll be carrying it forward into spring in different color schemes,” Morton said. The piece, which is worn over the shoulders and drapes over the torso, comes in different treatments and retails from $88 to $92.

In the cold-weather area, chenille hoods trimmed in rabbit fur and rabbit-fur earmuffs have been the runners-up to gloves, Morton noted.

In addition to the surge in cold-weather items, Sears has been scoring big in small leather goods, a category that is running almost 100 percent ahead of a year ago, noted Curry. Fashion jewelry is ahead as well, she said.

At J.C. Penney Co., the advent of colder weather has given a boost to gloves and mufflers in new fabrications, including chenille and polar fleece, according to Ann Gravseth, merchandise manager for accessories.

Some new entries in other categories have helped to drive accessories sales, too, she said. Key examples have been wallets-on-a-string from Rolf’s and Penney’s own brand, and organizer handbags by Carryland and Penney’s 9-to-5 and Worthington labels.

On the jewelry side, Don McKean, merchandise manager for fine and fashion jewelry at Penney’s, acknowledged that costume jewelry has been “a little tough,” but large earrings and boxed goods were performing, and the Worthington line has registered increases in “the high double digits.”

Other hot items include novelty watches from Looney Tunes, which have been registering high double-digit gains, and fashion watches at less than $100.

Diamonds and colored gem stones in tennis bracelets and stud earrings have led the way in fine jewelry, followed by gold earrings and sterling silver jewelry.

Novelty fabrications and bright colors have been keying sales of cold-weather goods at Saks Fifth Avenue here, said Gail Pisano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager.

“Shearling has been great in gloves, hats and mufflers, as has chenille,” Pisano said. “And in the chenille items, people have really been responding to colors, all kinds of colors, from reds and fuchsias to bright blues.”

Pisano, who said business is “way ahead,” pointed to action across all price ranges.

“We’re moving everything from $35 belts to $1,400 shawls,” she said.

Henri Bendel here has had brisk movement in pieces with novelty twists. A $45 chenille boa-type scarf, for instance, has been selling at the rate of 500 to 600 a month, according to Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for accessories.

Goldfarb noted that while jewelry continues to struggle, there have been a few bright spots. Most notable have been evening pieces in rhinestone and jet combinations, small earrings and pins. The Christmas list of top sellers at various stores also includes:

Barneys New York: Prada small leather goods and nylon backpacks; scarves in hand-dyed and devoré velvets, chenille scarves and gloves; shearling cold-weather goods in pastel and bright colors; rhinestone and silver hair accessories; jewelry by Erickson Beamon, Me+Ro, Bettina Duncan, Cara Angeli.

Bergdorf Goodman: Cashmere print shawls by Loro Piano at $1,450; shawls made of Tibetan shah-tush at $1,500 to $3,000; sterling silver chain watches by Obrey; angel pins by Barry Kieselstein Cord for $26.50; small nylon backpacks by Prada; shearling and fur hats by Patricia Underwood for about $1,675.

Federated: Watches by Fossil, Swatch, Anne Klein II and Perry Ellis; Totes Small Wonder and Big Top umbrellas; handbags from Coach, Timberland and Guess; Liz Claiborne wallets for $26 and Rossetti’s $28 wallet-on-a-bag, which sold 1,500 pieces in the last two weeks.

Henri Bendel: Hair accessories in rhinestone, velvet and fake hair; small leather goods in bright colors; sterling silver accessories and gift items; pins in rhinestone and marcasite from R.J. Graziano and Jose and Marie Berrera; earmuffs and head wraps in mink or fox; chenille gloves from $28.50 to $34.

Macy’s East: High tech watches, including Timex Indiglo at $39.95 and $54.95, and Guess Waterpro at $115; Anne Klein, Ellen Tracy and Elaine Gold scarves from Collection XIIX; box-stitched leather handbags from Kenneth Cole; leather organizer bags for $69 by Tignanello.

Neiman Marcus: Fashion jewelry in angel motifs; bridge jewelry lines from Stephen Lagos and David Yurman; Carolee watches; cuffs and head wraps in real or faux fur; eyeglass cases.

Saks Fifth Avenue: Shawls and capes from Loro Piano, Amicale and Adrienne Landau; private label patent leather evening bags; Santa Claus and Humpty Dumpty minaudieres by Judith Leiber; David Yurman gold and silver jewelry; Cartier and Raymond Weil watches; Jay Strongwater fashion jewelry; skinny patent leather belts, both private label and Calvin Klein.


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