Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — It was better, but it wasn’t enough.
That’s what a lot of accessories retailers and manufacturers were saying last week as they assessed the way their category was treated at the latest round of spring ready-to-wear collections here.
There was general agreement that the shows this month gave accessories a better play than the spring collections of a year ago. In addition, some industry people liked the way some collections focused on one key piece. Often, that was the skinny belt.
Others, however, were disappointed. They felt accessories were once again treated disdainfully, particularly in comparison with the European collections, which traditionally put more emphasis on the whole category, from jewelry to millinery.
According to reports from the accessories market two weeks ago, action at retail is pushing ahead of a year ago and expectations for spring are also high. Nevertheless, there is concern that the spare looks that prevailed on the New York runways could eventually harm their businesses.
“Consumers will think the accessories they need for spring are a skinny belt and a patent handbag, but little else, if you go by what was seen here last week,” said Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for accessories at Henri Bendel.
The Bendel’s shopper, he said, is a fashion customer who “watches collection coverage on cable and goes through the magazines, and if she doesn’t see accessories on the runway, she thinks she doesn’t need to buy them.”
Goldfarb said it was particularly disappointing not to see accessories from U.S. designers who have their own accessories lines. He noted that jewelry seemed to get the least attention here, pointing out that in Europe, “even Armani showed jewelry in Milan.”
The look of fine jewelry, however, will likely still be key for spring, he said, adding that the Europeans showed great rhinestone and pearl looks that he hadn’t yet seen in the market here.
“Women won’t go out bare-eared,” Goldfarb said.
Gail Pisano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue, said she found the relative absence of jewelry in the U.S. shows disappointing.
However, she said, the approach to accessories in general was better than it was last spring.
“The European shows put greater emphasis on the total accessory look, which created a tremendous impact and reinforced the importance of accessories, but the shows here focused for the most part on one quintessential accessory,” Pisano noted.
Even in the most minimal collections, like Calvin Klein’s, she said, it was “refreshing” to see at least one piece getting emphasized, such as the thin belt.
Despite what was — and was not — shown on the runways, she added, accessories will be important come spring for completing the look of an outfit.
Don McKean, merchandise manager for fine and fashion jewelry at J.C. Penney, who doesn’t attend the shows, but is aware of what’s being presented, pointed out that the ramifications of the SA runways extend to the moderate level of retailing.
He added that when fashion designers give accessories the cold shoulder, his company tries to counteract the problem in a variety of ways.
“When we don’t see models wearing very much jewelry, we may increase our advertising somewhat and upgrade the training of our staff on how to accessorize and help customers make jewelry decisions,” McKean said.
He added that while Penney’s reacts to the shifting fortunes of runway accessories “as best as we can,” fashion magazines also tend to be influential vehicles that, of late, haven’t been showing much in the way of jewelry.
“We just need to see more jewelry on models everywhere,” McKean said.
On the vendor side, some felt that the spare use of accessories by fashion designers indicates they are out of touch with the consumer.
Jewelry designer Carol Dauplaise said based on what she saw in print and TV coverage, more accessories would have enhanced the presentations, without detracting from the clothes.
“In my visits to stores across the country, it’s apparent that American women have learned to accessorize, and jewelry, in particular, really matters,” Dauplaise said. “They aren’t willing to make do with one gold necklace in the drawer anymore. The minimal look is over. It’s just too bare looking.”
She conceded that while consumers are affected by what they see reported in newspapers and on TV, she has found that when presented with new items, they respond enthusiastically. This is particularly true if there is someone on the retail floor to help coordinate the item with an outfit or teach them how to wear it.
“We’ve made or surpassed our figures at the personal appearances this fall. The stores tell me that it has really helped their trend jewelry business,” she said.
Carlos Falchi, owner and designer of the leather goods firm bearing his name, regularly creates accessories for the shows and did so again this season. He blames the scarcity of accessories last week on production cutbacks, rather than lack of interest from apparel designers.
“I think that designers are watching their costs for a runway show, and if accessories aren’t a key focus, they are often the first thing to go,” Falchi said.
He was pleased, however, that Saks allotted a portion of its windows highlighting the shows for accessories, since they reach out directly to consumers.
In addition, Falchi said the accessories designers’ presentation in the press building adjacent to the Bryant Park tents was very well received, allowing editors and retailers to see the exhibit at their leisure between shows.
Abe Chehebar, chief executive officer at Accessory Network, a major mass market supplier, attended some of the shows and said that while there was more emphasis on accessories in the European shows, he doesn’t expect a negative effect on his business.
“Our customers don’t make buying decisions based on what they see from the shows,” Chehebar said. “But what the lack of accessories on the runways does do is slow the pace of filtering from the designer level to the mass market.”
If newer looks were more prevalent on the catwalks, Chehebar said, consistent themes emerge, creating more business faster.
Some, however, had a different view of the runway presentations.
“The designers seem to know now that accessories finish a look,” said Vicki Haupt, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for accessories at Bergdorf Goodman. “Compared to the last few seasons, there was a bit more this time around.”
She felt that handbags, belts and sunglasses were specifically important, as was jewelry, which was apparent most notably in pieces that are close to the neck.
In addition to narrow belts, key themes included small bags with top handles, patent leather and pearls and diamonds, Haupt said.
Judy Harrison, president and chief executive officer at the Crystal Brands Jewelry Group, said that the presence of accessories on the runways was not as important as the clothing itself. And this season, she said, the clothes lend themselves to accessorization.
“I think consumers want to buy accessories, and the ready-to-wear trends shown are perfect for accessories,” Harrison said. “Just because a designer doesn’t show them, doesn’t mean a woman won’t buy them.”
She said she was excited about the return to glamour and elegance, and believes it encourages women to use their own sense of style more, noting that even “the whole minimal look is incomplete without accessories.”
“It’s really up to the accessories industry to show the customer her options,” Harrison said. “Jewelry is struggling because it needs to go back to putting style into the product. We’re not providing enough newness for her. We’ve focused too much on price at the expense of product.”
Meanwhile, belts are already showing the benefits of being the accessories star of the runways. Practically every show featured skinny belts over jackets, sweaters or dresses, resulting in a flood of orders, according to Joel Pinsky, president of Omega Fashions Ltd., a belt and leather goods house.
“The narrow looks had just started to happen in the real fashion stores, but now with all the fitted and sweater looks, many of the others have now jumped on the bandwagon,” Pinsky said. “They’ve come in this week with dollars for immediate deliveries.”
He said novelty items have been replaced by cleaner, more refined looks. Fabrications including microfiber, pearlized patent and metal chain have led the way, as have the firm’s latest offering, reversibles.
“They provide added value to the consumer, since they can go from a career to casual, metallic to patent or leather to fabric look,” he said.
Pinsky added that the renewed interest should add up to increases of roughly 15 percent for the first half of 1995 and build to a strong second half.

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