STORES SEE ACTION ACROSS THE BOARD

Byline: Amanda Meadus and Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Consumers may be gun-shy about buying for the holidays, but they don’t seem to have a problem with accessories, according to retailers around the country.
Department and specialty stores ranging from moderate to upscale, contacted last week, reported healthy sales in classifications from cold-weather goods to fashion jewelry.
On the very high end of the market, fine jewelers and prestige leather goods houses also said they were seeing brisk buying, with some purchases running up into the millions for custom-made diamond items.
“A few years ago, that sort of thing was being frowned upon as ostentatious or politically incorrect,” said a spokeswoman from Van Cleef & Arpels, where sales are up 47 percent over the same period in December a year ago. “But it looks now like the guilt trip is over.”
A number of department and specialty stores said they expected to finish the holiday period with solid double-digit gains.
“I think this will turn out to be a solid Christmas,” said Vicki Haupt, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of accessories at Bergdorf Goodman. “There are a lot of bright spots in accessories, and we’re generally ahead of last year. Some areas are making tremendous gains, even against strong performances last year.”
One particularly gratifying development, Haupt said, has been the comeback of jewelry, a category that has seen its share of tough times in the last several years.
At Henri Bendel, accessories have been scoring gains in the high teens so far for December. Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for the retailer, attributed this to status looks, color and novelty, all of which have been compelling consumers to buy.
In the status area, “it’s not necessarily in terms of names, but rather in high-quality materials and looks,” said Goldfarb. In jewelry, for instance, sterling silver link bracelets and necklaces have been top performers, as have real or fake fox and mink fur hats, head wraps and ear muffs and hair accessories with link motifs done in the manner of Gucci hardware.
For Sears, Roebuck & Co., business has progressed at a solid pace during the last two weeks, according to Kim Anderson Curry, divisional merchandise manager for accessories.
Cold-weather goods, handbags and jewelry have been top performers, Curry noted. Buxton miniorganizer bags, B.H. Smith’s teddy bear backpacks and Carryland brand handbags have all registered double-digit increases, she added.
Fashion jewelry has been showing mid to high-double-digit increases each month this year and has continued to do so this month, Curry said.
Accessories have been strong for the fourth quarter in general and just keep gaining momentum at Saks Fifth Avenue, said Gail Pisano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager.
“Every classification has been strong, and even the areas such as millinery and cold-weather goods that were soft back in October have bounced back completely,” she said.
In the luxury goods arena, sales activity has been running at a high pitch.
“We couldn’t be happier,” said Marion Davidson, director of marketing and communications for the U.S. division of HermAs. “We’ve read all the stories of retail woe in wonder, because we just haven’t been finding business to be bad at all.”
Davidson did note that actual traffic has been down in the HermAs store here, “but that has been compensated for by the fact that customers are making multiple purchases this year.”
The new Montblanc and Seeger boutiques, both of which opened on Madison Avenue here within the last month, are doing well with “items that are new and of the most luxurious quality,” said Stanislas de Quercize, president and chief executive officer of Montblanc U.S. Seeger, featuring fine leather goods, is part of Montblanc.
Top sellers at the Montblanc store have been the new LeGrand roller ball pen for $185 and the Ramses II roller ball pen for $595, de Quercize said. At the Seeger store, functional items have been key, with bestsellers including a shirt box for $865 and a leather garment bag for $3,680.
Demand has been high for a wide variety of merchandise at Van Cleef & Arpels, with items on the most-purchased list ranging from $2,700 rings to $80,000 brooches, according to the company’s spokeswoman.
Most notably, she added, special orders have been up dramatically from the last several years, and the firm’s workshop has been so inundated that it will not be able to deliver the items until January.
“The least expensive piece we are doing is $600,000,” she said of this custom-made business. “We are working on several $2 million pieces.”
Here, a rundown of what other retailers report they are selling:
* J.C. Penney: Leather gloves, organizer handbags, novelty slippers, animal print looks in all classifications.
* Dayton Hudson: Coach handbags; belts from CK Calvin Klein, Guess and Fossil; fashion and bridge jewelry, including lines from Patti Horn, Dayne Duvall and Simon Sebag; cold weather accessories in Polarfleece.
* Tiffany & Co.: Watches from the new Atlas collection; platinum, pearl and diamond pieces from the Fireworks collection; rings set with diamonds or other stones.
* Bulgari: Sterling silver cufflinks, signature Bulgari bracelets and necklaces, fragrance and bath products.
* Louis Vuitton: Logo-print backpacks and Alma-style handbags with zip-top closure and double handles; Epi textured leather Saint Jacques-style triangular shoulder bags and Lussac style shoulder bags.

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