FALL STARTS ON A LUXURIOUS NOTE

Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — Bring out the furs, feathers and velvets. Customers are in a sumptuous mood when it comes to accessories.
That’s the word from retailers across the country, reporting on early fall’s top sellers. Rich materials are getting a big play in all categories — and sales overall are topping last fall’s strong performance.
Major trends include:
Fur, real or fake.
Embroidery.
Bold jewelry.
Fake crocodile-patterned belts.
Rich reds and browns.
Big brands in a variety of classifications.
“It’s a very good time for accessories,” said Sandra Wilson, fashion director of accessories for Neiman Marcus.
“There’s a lot of embellishment, texture interest and fanciful romantic looks out there,” she said. The whole key, she said, is luxury.
Sought-after ideas include animal prints, fake and real fur, velvet, feathers and embroidery, in all categories, from scarves to wraps, handbags and gloves. Victorian-inspired looks, such as pearls, are selling as part of a general romantic trend. “The trends that are selling right now in accessories are very congruent with the ready-to-wear,” she said.
“We saw so much [romance] on the runway, both European and American,” she said. “It’s just being translated down. Magazines are featuring it, and it’s also something we really believed in.”
At Carson Pirie Scott, based in Milwaukee, sales are brisk, according to Dave Harris, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for accessories.
“This is probably one of the better third-quarter start-ups we’ve seen over the last five or six years,” he said. “What’s really encouraging is, it’s broad-based. We’re seeing growth in all categories of accessories.”
Sales are up by mid-single digits over last year’s, Harris said.
Newness is what’s driving accessories’ success. Harris said there’s more newness in all categories than he has seen in a long time. In addition, early apparel sales have prompted this desire to accessorize.
“The other issue is, there are more designer brand names in accessories than ever, in all price zones,” Harris added.
Harris said in jewelry the hottest segment is bridge, with growth in the high double digits. Sterling is outstanding, especially when accented with birthstones. Fashion jewelry is also encouraging, he said. Three factors contributing to this strength are color, fashion metals and boxed jewelry.
In branded fashion jewelry, Liz Claiborne is growing at a 50 percent rate, and Napier is up 35 percent, Harris said. Givenchy, Dior and Anne Klein also are popular.
The watch business is noteworthy, he said, and is sparked by metal and mesh band treatments. Fossil business is “outstanding.”
While the handbag business has remained relatively difficult, Harris said, high moderate and better business has improved, particularly activity in brands like Nine West, Guess, Coach and The Sac.
Neckwear is growing at a rate of more than 50 percent, he said, and there is strength in brands like Liz Claiborne, Halston, Echo and Jones New York.
At Macy’s West, fashion director Denise Filchner said accessories are doing well.
“In most areas, we are meeting our figures of last year and in many, surpassing,” she said. “The fashion jewelry area is doing very well.”
Color is driving business.
“Wine, burgundy, oxblood — that whole color family,” she said, noting these shades are popular in materials ranging from suede to crystal.
In belts, texture such as crocodile and colors such as warm neutrals are selling, as are elongated oval or rectangular buckles. The classic one-inch trouser belt is doing well. Velvet is in demand. “It’s interesting that it’s selling already,” Filchner said. “Usually, you’ve got it at fourth quarter with true holiday.”
In jewelry, what Filchner calls “illusion necks” are bestsellers. These are generally wire or cord necklaces with faceted beads or pearls interspersed throughout.
Sunglasses with tinted frames and handbags with the thin pancake silhouette also are selling.
At Bloomingdale’s, Francine Klein, general merchandise manager, said, “Business is strong, and above plan in terms of total accessories.”
In costume jewelry, the strength is in items such as chokers and tiny hoop earrings. The look of the real thing, as in the designs of Carolee, is a strong trend.
Watches are selling well in white metal, especially Fossil’s steel watches. Anne Klein II watches with colored dials are also strong. And fake fur is a good category, from backpacks to eyeglass cases.
Trouser belts are strong, especially in lizard and croco looks. Branded resources such as Polo, DKNY and CK are doing well.
Klein said demand for belts is in line with the strength of suits in rtw. In handbags, minibags are doing well, as are brands such as Kate Spade, DKNY, CK and Polo.
At Saks Fifth Avenue, fashion director and vice president Nicole Fischelis said trends cutting across all categories include velvet, chinoiserie, feathers and fake fur.
“So you’ll have a velvet bag, velvet scarves and velvet headbands all doing well,” she said.
Feathered handbags from 31 Fevrier, a Paris line, are bestsellers, as are some private label ombre feather bags with rhinestone chain handles. Boas are selling in feathers and in Mongolian lamb.
“We’re just selling a lot of faux fur, which we thought was great, having such an early selling on those items,” she said.
In wraps, velvets are selling, and cashmere wraps are beginning to show strength.
In semiprecious jewelry, the ethnic and Asian influences are moving, particularly from designers Chan Luu and John Hardy. Overall, bigger, bolder pieces, such as sterling cuffs and necklaces, are outperforming dainty looks.
Designer names — Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Ferragamo — have the cachet in belts. There’s also a trend to novelty buckles. In handbags, suede is stronger than plain leather.
At Ultimo in Chicago, owner Joan Weinstein said, “Our store has always sold accessories, even when they weren’t that important, but I would say this year there are much more interesting things. Things are going fast.”
Velvet handbags, maribou and feather-trimmed stoles for evening, and fur cuffs and collars to put on suits and dresses all are popular, as are Mongolian lamb scarves.
“I think we’re selling really dramatic things for the evening, and for day we’re selling the fine jewelry and a lot of scarves,” she said. “Scarves were so good this season.”
She said fine jewelry in dainty proportions is strong, while costume has “sort of gone out of the picture.”
“People are buying good things,” she said.

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