BAGS LEAD THE PACK
SALES OF HANDBAGS, AT BETTER-TO-DESIGNER PRICES, ARE LIGHTING UP RETAIL, ALONG WITH HIGH-END JEWELRY.

Byline: Teena Hammond / with contributions from Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — The newest must-have on the West Coast is a stylish handbag, and the looks range from Chinese-inspired silks, bright tapestry, alligator and ostrich to handpainted teak decorated with scenes of landscapes and birds.
Exotic purses have pushed sales of handbags and jewelry at Wilkes Bashford up 12 percent this spring compared with last year, said Wilkes Bashford, owner of the San Francisco-based specialty store.
“The newest thing is the small metal-framed bag from Pibra. They’re selling really well,” Bashford said. The $400 to $600 purses are made in Italy out of soft, shiny goat skin. They have both a handle and a shoulder strap. Best-selling colors are apple green, navy, white and black.
Teak bags by Rafael Sanchez are also popular. They sell for $600 to $1,000 and have a hinged closure on the top, along with cording and jewels to match the handpainted design, he said. Alligator and ostrich skin bags are selling quickly in small and large sizes, ranging from $1,250 to $5,000.
Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif., is also reporting strong sales of fashion handbags. Bright tapestry bags from Fru, along with “cute, silk handbags” in red, black, lavender and pink embroidered fabric made by Deva, are popular, according to Pascale McCracken, an owner of the specialty store. The bags range from $165 to $225.
At Barneys New York in Beverly Hills, sales of handbags and jewelry are exceeding expectations, said Sharon Taylor, senior manager.
Joyce Francis Art Deco-style Lucite bags, signed by the artist and selling for $1,000, are hot items. Desmo handbags, for $225, are also being snapped up quickly, in shades ranging from neutral to brown and black. Crocheted bags from Carrie Forbes for $295 are selling, along with Henry Beguelin purses, which average $550 and come in leather and suede in bright green, yellow and orange. They are hand-embroidered and have wallets, key chains, agendas and cosmetic cases to match, Taylor said.
At Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, handbag sales have been good, said John Martens, general manager.
“Gucci, of course, continues to be very strong,” he said.
Other accessories in demand at Neiman’s include hats, sunglasses and jewelry. Bestsellers include precious jewelry by Barry Kieselstein-Cord and Henry Dunay. High-end watches from a variety of vendors are also popular.
Elsewhere in jewelry, amber and antique-rope jewelry ranging from $150 to $500 is posting strong sales at Wilkes Bashford. And at Fred Segal, brightly colored stones — “crazy, oversized gems a la the Forties” — are popular, McCracken said.
“We’re just getting going on the whole Indian-inspired ethnic sort of earrings,” she added. The earrings are in demand because they are similar to those worn by Nicole Kidman to the Academy Awards last month.
At Barneys, Oris and Epos watches that average $650 are popular, along with Barneys’ own sterling watches for $950, said Taylor.
Cathy Waterman and Linda Lee Johnson are two of the top fine-jewelry resources at the store. Waterman has a platinum diamond collection that offers a vintage look in delicate floral patterns, along with diamonds set in 22-karat gold. Johnson has a more minimal look with satin matte finished platinum jewelry. The average price for Johnson’s and Waterman’s pieces are $2,500.
At the high end of the jewelry market, Bulgari is posting strong business in its five West Coast stores, according to Peri Berne, store manager of the Beverly Hills unit.
“Business on the West Coast is definitely jumping,” she said, adding that the company recently remodeled its Beverly Hills and San Francisco stores.
Berne stressed that the company is diversifying with lower priced collections aimed at “Generation Xers and young hipsters.” The company also plans to launch a scarf collection this year.
“People used to think that we were a prestigious jeweler, but we are truly now affordable to everyone,” she said.
Bulgari is also doing well with coin pendants on leather cords, retailing for $2,800.
Another popular item is a bracelet with gold parenthesis tips for $1,950.
“It’s a lot of look,” Berne said. “You can wear it with a T-shirt and jeans and then dress it up at night,” she said.
Another popular collection is the Quadrato watch collection, which comes in gold and stainless steel. Berne called it “one of our more cutting-edge styles.” Prices start at $1,900.
Tronchetto rings are also popular. They have either hard stones or semiprecious stones set in gold. They range from $950 to $1,750.
There is also a new division at Bulgari, with the classic BB emblem, which she called “fun jewelry.” Rings, bracelets and necklaces in steel or gold retail from $790 to $2,500.

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