BETTER CLIMATE LIFTS FALL OUTLOOK

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Fall got off to a quick start in the accessories market with many vendors reporting brisk traffic and better-than-expected sales during the recent market week.
While accessories have performed better than many other fashion segments in recent months, the sector has taken some hits and many buyers for spring were more selective in their purchases.
However, a number of industry executives said they felt the mood was changing due in large part to positive economic indicators lately, and robust sell-throughs of spring jewelry and accessories, especially items such as turquoise jewelry and pearls.
“People are definitely more upbeat,” said Steven Roberts, president of Echo Design Group. “We are seeing strong buying, especially for our more innovative products.”
Elissa Natt, owner of the Sola showroom here, said: “Spring has been really strong, so far, and there isn’t as much of a budget constraint for fall.”
Most vendors were concentrating on their initial fall deliveries, although a handful of companies, especially those catering to the junior market, were still showing some summer products. Many new trends were concentrated on traditional fall themes and fabrics, such as tweed and leather, and cold-weather items like hats and scarves also saw plenty of action.
At Echo, key trends included equestrian-inspired themes and paisley prints in rich colors. New styles featured graphic prints in bold hues; lace prints; crushed velvet with burnout designs, and wraps with beads and fringe.
A long and skinny scarf shape modeled after a men’s tie was also drawing attention, said Lynn Roberts, Echo’s director of advertising. The firm’s Collection group, which consists of special pieces at higher price points, featured oversized scarves in materials such as cashmere, boucle and washed satin.
Meanwhile, the Natori Co. continues to expand its accessories offerings. The firm, which has made its mark in innerwear, introduced handbags last year and, after seeing a strong reception, it continues to build this category.
The Natori accessories collection has now been expanded to include a wider range of bags, including more day options, as well as scarves and shawls. Some of the bags feature exotic skins, such as alligator and lizard, while other styles are made in suede or hair calf. Belts were introduced for the first time last week. Many of the accessory pieces feature Asian embroidered print motifs, and jade is a key material in both the belts and the handbags.
Josie Natori, chief executive officer, said she is pleased with the reception of her accessories line, which is sold at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
“I am still learning a lot about the accessories business, but I am loving it,” she said. “I feel there are so many other categories we can get into.”
At Judith Jack, new items included a collection of jewelry with amber stones and beads, including styles with marcasite and a necklace with a large cameo. Another new group of jewelry features charms and pieces with small reproductions of teddy bears, the cuddly stuffed animal that’s celebrating the 100th anniversary of its creation, said Michael Horowitz, president of Judith Jack.
Judith Jack also is stepping up its in-store events, such as trunk shows for fall, and is planning additional marketing programs and increased co-op advertising, Horowitz said.
“We also continue to expand our specialty store business,” he added.
Handbags have become more important to the company and its styles now include bags that can be worn from day to evening.
A DKNY spokeswoman said among the top looks during market were suede fringe handbags, napa leather styles and logo jacquard pieces.
“The trends also continue to be soft bags as opposed to the structured styles, as well as small day-into-evening bags,” she said. “That’s where we feel the stores are continuing to put most of their dollars.”
Jewelry designer R.J. Graziano chose to show summer merchandise instead of fall, primarily because “customers want more buy-now merchandise,” Graziano said.
The company focused almost exclusively on jewelry with white stones, including mother-of-pearl and rock crystal. The white trend is being driven by spring trends in ready-to-wear, he said. Other key styles include large chandelier earrings and loose, fluid bracelets.
At Carolee Designs, fall items include jewelry with darker stones such as black cat’s eye and gray pearls. Many of the new offerings have a more modern approach, with items like a sterling silver necklace made of twisted cylinder shapes.
Carolee, which was purchased last year by Retail Brand Alliance, also continues to expand its retail rollout of company-owned stores. There are now five Carolee stores, with a target of 11 to 13 more planned by yearend, said president and chief executive officer Carolee Friedlander.
“We are also building our point-of-sale materials, as well as our international business,” she said, adding that watches, a new category for the firm, are scheduled to make their debut later this year.
Liz Claiborne Inc. showcased a range of new accessories and jewelry. While much of its jewelry presentation focused on summer, the scarf, hat, belt and handbag offerings were tuned to fall.
Standout items included burnout velvet scarves, newsboy hats and small handbag shapes, said Ed Bucciarelli, president of Claiborne’s Accessory Group.
“We are seeing a resurgence of prints in handbags,” he said. “People are looking for something more interesting.”
Bracelets are a key classification in Claiborne’s jewelry department and are expected to account for as much as 20 percent of business in the first half of the year, said Dina Battipaglia, vice president of merchandising and design at LCI Jewelry Group.
Claiborne acquired Monet last year, and it continues to expand this brand with new and updated products, including magnet earrings and three-stone earring and necklace styles.
Handbags were also an area of focus at Pacific Connection, which now makes them under the Elle magazine name. For fall, the firm is concentrating on twill and UltraSuede fabrics, and new shapes such as small totes and a messenger-bag-inspired style. Christian Mueller, a former designer with Kate Spade, joined a few months ago and is overseeing design for the Elle handbag line.
“The bags are designed to be sensible but fashionable,” Mueller said.
Handbags are also high on the agenda at Cole Haan, which makes shoes and bags and has outerwear under license. Many of the Cole Haan bags this season feature extras, such as flip-lock, magnetic side pockets and suede lining. Inspiration is coming from vintage styles and earlier looks.
The company also is working to better coordinate its handbag and shoe offerings, and is planning to introduce watches under license later this year.
“We are going back to the roots of the company with many of our styles this season,” said Gordon Thompson 3rd, Cole Haan’s executive vice president and creative director. “Handbags are definitely a focus for growth.”

EARLY FALL TRENDS
Velvet scarves, especially burn-out styles

Feather motifs

Soft and slouchy handbags

Oversized pendant necklaces

Beads, embellishments and fringe

Newsboy hats

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