Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — Multiculturalism has hit the accessories industry in a major way this spring.
Retailers say the trend is a key factor in the brisk sales at accessories counters this season and could be even more important next spring. It also seems to be stirring the creative juices of the industry’s designers.
These looks, often termed “ethnic,” were last popular in late 1993 and early 1994. But industry insiders note there’s quite a difference between then and now: The last wave was more literal, and it was driven mostly by symbols of Africa.
This time, it’s global. While African influences — wooden beads, wide gold neck bands — are still heavy, Chinese motifs and fabrics have proliferated, and so has jade.
American Indian culture has been revived with the use of turquoise in jewelry, while a primitive approach comes in the widespread popularity of natural stones and beads. There also are cues from East India; some retailers cited embroidery and beading on bags as examples.
“The good news this season is, ethnic is coming back in a fresh way,” said Joseph Denofrio, senior vice president of fashion at Macy’s East. The popularity of safari looks and animal prints for the last three seasons has ushered in the multicultural trend, in Denofrio’s view.
The most notable category is jewelry, he said. Looks are irregular natural stones and woods, bangle bracelets in wood, ivory-like pieces and metal stations between beads on necklaces.
Some buyers point to the potential longevity of this trend, and expect it to gather even more strength into next spring.
“We really see this trend gaining major importance as of spring 1998,” said Linda Krelitz, trend manager for shoes and accessories at Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s. “Then we see the mass accepting it.”
Krelitz said her stores are bringing in multicultural looks for transition and for holiday, as a new way to do special-occasion jewelry.
“Where we really feel the inspiration is coming out of is North Africa, Morocco, China and Japan,” she said.
The last time this trend came around, it was “more obvious, in your face,” Krelitz noted. Now, she said, it’s an inspiration “versus, literally, what you’re going to find when you go to a Moroccan market.”
With stone jewelry, she said, the mood is reflected in the use of natural materials again, much like the widespread use of wood.
“This may be the trend we’ve been waiting for because it leads to bigger and bolder jewelry and accessories,” she said. “We’re excited about it.”
“We’re bullish about it,” said David Wolfe, creative director of D3, Doneger Design Direction. Wolfe is dubbing the trend “Exotic Origins” and considers it one of the three major movements for spring 1998. The other two looks are Art Deco and romantic.
“Multicultural accessories are very easy for everyone to understand,” Wolfe explained. “They’re also acceptable for people who don’t want to look too extravagant or like they’re trying to return to the over-ostentation of the Eighties.”
Natural materials, like beads, stone and wood, are key to the toned-down but interesting appeal of these accessories, Wolfe said.
Those materials are especially important in necklaces and bangles, he said.
Looks include “big beads, a mix of colors, something with a shell-like feeling, mixed with wood, or a kind of stone,” Wolfe said.
“There’s been an interest in hand-made things, because different cultures have different craftsmen,” said Judith Collinson, divisional merchandise manager at Barneys New York.
Collinson pointed to Marie-Helene Detaillac, Sharon Alouf and Linda Lee Johnson as jewelry designers Barneys carries who demonstrate multiculturalism.
Both Detaillac and Alouf show influences from India in their work, Collinson said. Detaillac’s pieces include pounded gold tubes and Alouf’s include pearls encased in 24-karat gold — a metal often considered too soft for jewelry. Linda Lee Johnson, who usually works with diamonds and pearls, is currently working in many other materials. These include Nigerian glass beads, Chinese coral and jadeite, Peking glass, Tibetan turquoise and old amber from China and the Baltic region.
Collinson noted these multicultural looks have “trickled” in and become more accepted.
At Bergdorf Goodman, Vickie Haupt, the senior vice president and general merchandise manager of accessories, said, “There have been multicultural influences not only in jewelry and handbags, but also in scarves and footwear.”
Haupt said the most visible influences have been Eastern — mostly Japanese and Chinese — and African.
She cited the Japanese platform thong styles from Calvin Klein, DKNY and Gucci as examples of Eastern looks in footwear.
“Scarves are appliqued and beaded, which could stem from India,” she said. “Also, there are Masai-inspired hoop earrings, arm cuffs and neck wires.”
Haupt said she expects the influence to continue into fall, with embroidery, applique and beading on cold-weather fabrics such as velvet.
Jewelry, she said, will continue to be elaborate, with an East Indian influence, or clean and spare with a Japanese esthetic.
“This is the season about options,” said Gail Pisano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. “This season, all retailers have done a terrific job trying to cover this broadly used word, ‘ethnic.’ Ethnic doesn’t necessarily have to be bangle bracelets.”
Pisano pointed to an array of looks carried at Saks: Prada’s embroidered bags that are Chinese-inspired; the wooden beaded bags and wood and rock crystal necklaces, which echo Africa, and straw bags with fringe or wooden handles that reflect a general island culture.
Because the trend means different things to different people, “multifaceted classifications have a long life,” she said.
Gail Brail, accessories buyer at the Florida division of Jacobson’s, was reserved about the multicultural direction, noting, “I think this is about the 10th time I’ve been through this trend.”
But she added, “What I’m finding with designers is they’re getting back into designing.” Jacobson’s stores are carrying a lot of wood and turquoise, and Brail has seen designers working on manipulated beads and natural stones, like river stones and jasper.
“I think most everyone here has termed it as an ethnic type of feeling,” she said. “It’s not as strong a feeling as it was years ago, but what we’ve got in is selling so far.”
Brail said she thinks the trend will continue at least through summer, and some elements, like antique silver, will carry into fall.

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