Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — The already feverish pitch of holiday shopping at Bergdorf Goodman Tuesday afternoon got even more frenzied with the arrival of John Galliano.
The designer was on hand for the launch of his first handbag collection, and his presence attracted a crowd that quickly filled his second-floor ready-to-wear boutique to overflowing.
One well-dressed Bergdorf’s shopper making her way around the designer boutiques was caught off guard by the excitement. She asked about the identity of the man wearing the bleach-stained jeans and faded pink T-shirt, topped off by a caramel-colored ostrich coat and a pink suede belt with a huge rhinestone buckle in the shape of a skull and crossbones.
It was, of course, Galliano, who was a bit bleary-eyed from almost a week’s worth of parties here, but patiently stood for photos, mingled with shoppers looking over the collection and signed copies of the book “Galliano: Romantic, Realist and Revolutionary,” by Colin McDowell, published in 1997 by Rizzoli.
Galliano characterized the process of designing handbags as quite a learning experience.
“It’s a different kind of challenge,” he said. “Besides being fun and beautiful, handbags also really have to work for a woman. That functional part of it all can be quite fascinating.”
Several Bergdorf’s executives turned up to meet the designer and survey the collection, led by chairman and chief executive officer Stephen Elkin, who declared it a hit.
“John has added a new dimension and dynamic to handbags. They complement his clothing and are modern without being too over-the-top,” said Elkin, who also said he was particularly pleased with what he viewed as a more organized approach at Galliano’s namesake firm. “John’s association with Christian Dior has allowed him to retain his creativity while at the same time fostering a new level of professionalism.”
Robert Burke, Bergdorf’s recently appointed vice president of fashion merchandising, lauded the collection for its detailing and limited-edition feel.
“Women today are so interested in signature, one-of-a-kind looks,” he said. “I love the faux crocodile pieces with the flower handles, and all the details are just so attractive. They are really artisan-type pieces, which is so important now.”
Like other designer handbags in the wildly competitive market now, silhouette often takes a backseat to more interesting materials and unusual closures, and Galliano’s line has taken a page from that book. But also strongly evident is his original blend of femininity with an edge.
The series to which Burke referred — simply shaped totes and clutches in pink, yellow or lime green embossed leather with clear plastic handles encasing real pressed flowers — were a draw to many shoppers.
Another group — available in such materials as denim, fake snakeskin or haircalf — all feature a nifty brushed- metal bar through which a single shoulder strap or flap is fed, neatly closing the bag. A third series is accented by silver-plated chain straps with a snake’s head and tail anchoring the ends of the straps to the bag’s body.
The Galliano bags retail for $600 to $2,000 and will be housed temporarily in the designer’s second-floor boutique. When Bergdorf’s main-floor renovation is completed next year, the collection will be relocated to the expanded accessories space there, according to Rise Gerber, fashion director for accessories.
Galliano said he was anxious to do some shopping of his own before leaving town.
“I would really like to do SoHo and also check out the meatpacking district,” he said. But don’t expect to hear of him ringing in the New Year at lavish party. “I plan to be in London with a few close friends, then I’ll spend a few days getting my head together for couture.”

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