FROM KICKY COWGIRL CHIC TO GROMMET-STUDDED BIKER LOOKS, BELTS ARE BACK IN FORCE.
Byline: Deirdre Mendoza
In Los Angeles, where reedy waists are worshiped and bare bellies embellished, colored crystal and leather “glam rock” belts are cinching up everyone from flashy Beverly Hills teens to style icons like Madonna.
The once-struggling belt category has reemerged on the scene, as an influx of wider fashion trends revive interest. Belts play a starring role in some of the most of-the-moment trends: cowgirl chic, punk-influenced vintage, camouflage and Eighties glam.
Though belts got their start on the West Coast, the phenomenon has made its way east. Retailers say the trend came on the heels of the diminutive chain belts and jewelry-at-the-waist looks that thrived last summer.
“L.A. had a head start because of the climate, but it will reach the East Coast this summer when people aren’t so buttoned-up,” said Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson in Beverly Hills, who’s shipped off belts to clients as far as New York and Florida. “People here are showing off their navels in hip-hugger pants. The belts just complement good bodies and outfits.”
Ross said glam-rock belts are now selling by the armload. Some customers are buying five or more different styles at a time, with average purchases coming in around $500. Hot sellers include crystal initial or ID styles, camouflage and American flag designs by Paige Roberts, Full Moon and Tres Flores. Canvas and stone military styles from Cathleen Waronker are also strong. Kitson’s belt fans range from moneyed teenagers and celebrities such as Halle Berry, Christina Aguilera, Cher and Lenny Kravitz to an older clientele on the lookout for a fun accessory.
“Belts are what jewelry — particularly the power beads and crystal bracelets — were to last year’s accessories market,” Ross pointed out, noting that belt sales account for 20 percent of his overall revenues. Sales should hit $400,000 by year’s end, he estimates.
The 53-unit, Florida-based Burdines chain first noticed an upturn in belt sales in November 2000, according to accessories buyer Stephanie Nelson. Coming on strong for spring 2001 will be looks with crystal buckles, studs, grommets, chains, contours and the “Madonna leather look,” she said.
Perhaps the best indication of this trend’s pace comes from the Los Angeles representatives who were taken by surprise by the current craze.
“I knew this belt thing was really happening about six weeks ago [mid-December] when buyers started showing up looking for belt resources — without an appointment,” said Jeanette Engel, owner of the Jeanette and Wayne Engel showroom in the California Mart. Her strongest seller is Leatherock Belts, a well-established San Diego resource manufacturing the glam rock style to retail generally under $100.
“I had someone come in and try to buy a $40 dollar Leatherock sample off my body for $400,” Engel said in disbelief. “This is all driving me happily crazy.”
Los Angeles-based designers said big, sparkly belts were bound to happen.
“People needed something to brighten up their style, and belts put an accent of color on jeans. They’re glittery, they’re fun and they’re eye-catching,” said Amy Lou Stein, a former stylist for the likes of Mercury Rev and Beck. She and Fred Segal staffers Leslie Melvin and Claudia Diaz are partners in Tres Flores, a belt line that jump-started the glam belt trend when it launched last February. The company’s hand-painted leather belts, offset by crystal-covered oval, square and saloon-shaped buckles, wholesale for about $75-$140.
The line was produced until a month ago out of Stein’s Echo Park home — where the women’s boyfriends frequently found themselves tapped for design ideas and free labor. It has since moved to a storefront studio on Echo Park Avenue. The influential 10 Eleven showroom in the New Mart has landed A-list specialty accounts for Tres Flores worldwide, including Scoop and Henri Bendel in New York, Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong and Akademi and Browns in London.
Stein, who wants to build the fledgling resource by branching into other categories, estimated belt sales could reach $2 million by 2004.
Jewelry and accessories designer Tarina Tarantino has her own take on the leather belt trend this season, following major success with a versatile chain belt she offered last year, which has since morphed into a chain with crystal embellishment. Now, Tarantino has moved into cobra stretch belts with crystal buckles reminiscent of those worn in resort areas such as Palm Springs during the Seventies. On a younger customer, the same gold belt paired with jeans reads hip, kitsch and definitely on trend, she said.
“We have the [low-riding] Earl Jean culture out here, so belts are something sparkly around your belly. And it’s very sexy, very L.A,” said Tarantino.
Leather-and-stone belts are a fixture on Los Angeles actors, musicians and stylists, who live in jeans and tend to go for a bolder look than their East Coast counterparts.
“It’s only the beginning [for] bigger belts as a primary accessory. People are learning how to make them and wear them properly, so it’s a natural evolution,” said Scott Richler, co-owner of Montreal accessories resource Jennifer Scott.
The company’s Los Angeles showroom, Parallel Lines, booked $40,000 wholesale when the line debuted at the last spring market in Los Angeles, Richler said. Wholesaling from $60 to $80, Jennifer Scott belts have recently been picked up by better specialty stores such as Kitson on Robertson On L.A.’s Roberston Boulevard. The leather and rhinestone styles, some with dangling crystal chains, play on vintage biker styling and oversized Eighties looks.