RETAILERS TAKE A LOOK DOWN THIS YEAR’S ACCESSORIES HIGHWAY.
Byline: Wendy Hessen / With contributions from Kristin Young, Los Angeles
Having become quite comfortable with the strong pace of accessories in recent years, industry executives were caught off guard when fourth-quarter retail results last year were below expectations.
But with a bit of a rebound in January and the stock market seeming to settle down, some of the industry’s retailers have taken a look at their businesses and found that the outlook isn’t so bad after all. Most remain quite optimistic about the future of the category as a whole, but there are some things to consider.
Chief among them is a shift away from some long-running trends. Embellished looks and color, both of which have had a keen ability to fuel accessories sales, are both in transition. While they will still be of interest, they will generally become more subtle and subdued, echoing the patterns being seen in clothing.
“Accessories are changing, and we are going away from embellishment, but I don’t necessarily view that as a slowing,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president of Barneys New York. “Anytime there is a lot of change, it’s an opportunity. If things stayed the same, people would have lost interest anyway.”
Collinson noted that the leaning toward “cleaner, quieter and simpler” looks that is turning up in apparel will also be the way to go with accessories. But that doesn’t mean they will be invisible. Among the most important looks for fall will be belts, particularly big, heavy styles, and cleaner and bolder jewelry.
“There is so much change in jewelry,” she said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of movement toward metal and bolder shapes, and there will be less beading, or beading used in cleaner ways. The same is happening with embellishment. We will still have some, but it will be used in more handsome and cleaner ways.”
At Saks Fifth Avenue, Gail Pisano, executive vice president of merchandising, said: “Accessories are a rewarding business because as one [classification] slows down, another picks up. We feel the business will continue [to grow], but it will just come from other classifications.”
She also pointed to belts as a key growth opportunity.
“There was so much emphasis on the waist in so many collections, I think belts will define a new fashion opportunity,” said Pisano. “We’ve been talking about it a lot, but there is finally really something happening in ready-to-wear — shirtdresses, full skirts with blouses — that I think is dictating the return of the belt.”
In addition, Pisano cited modified versions of classic pearl jewelry, real or faux diamonds and singular, bold statement pieces, such as “the great earring or pin or necklace,” as being important.
Handbags will continue their reign as probably the most important arena, with retro looks like the classic quilted Chanel bag, and luggage, satchel and frame shapes also in demand. Sunglasses are another growth segment for Saks.
“There are so many options in frames shapes and colors of lenses,” Pisano said. “We’re seeing innovation and sport influences into everyday wear. After a stellar year, we just see it getting stronger.”
Ed Burstell, vice president at Henri Bendel, described accessories as a business in transition, but not softening.
“Women will still want the solid item for each season: the great sunglass, the belt, the classic hair accessory,” he said. “It’s about wearing the right combination of those things.”
On the upside, Burstell pointed out: “With embellishment, you could get away pretty cheap, but these key items are a bit pricier, so our average retails could be higher. With new, cleaner items comes a sense of more refinement and better quality.”
Though some parts of the country may be experiencing some slowing, Texas is booming, thanks to the strength of the oil and natural gas industries, according to Tom Becker, fashion marketing coordinator at Tootsies, which has stores in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
“I think accessories are only getting stronger,” he said. “Women may not buy a $1,500 suit, but they will buy accessories to freshen up their look.”
Becker said exotic skins and animal looks in general have kept accessories in the forefront of consumers’ minds and that pashmina remains a strong business.
Designers helping to propel the store’s growing jewelry business, such as Stephen Dweck, Dian Malouf and Mariquita Masterson, are all known for their strong use of color, which has an ongoing, rather than trendy, interest among Texas women. Becker said following the pinks, blues and lime greens for spring would be striking jewel tones of deep purple and red for fall.
“Black is a staple for us, but we also do a big business with clothing lines like Roberto Cavalli — and that’s major color,” he said.
Not everyone is quite so bullish, however.
While sales in general have been quite strong and some of her stores have been racking up revenues in excess of $3 million a year, Dottie Chanin, owner of the four-unit Ice Accessories chain in California and Nevada, lamented the industry’s recent offerings when she said: “I felt that there is very little newness in the market, and that can kill the business.”
At Tracey Ross, another Los Angeles boutique, January rebounded in a big way, largely because of belts, according to buyer Karen Zambos.