TONING IT DOWN
IN RESPONSE TO AMERICA’S WAR ON TERROR, ACCESSORIES VENDORS ARE REVAMPING THEIR SPRING LINES.

Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent U.S. military action overseas, accessories vendors have been forced to alter their plans for spring, including changes in product offerings and pricing.
Many firms are stepping up their Americana-themed offerings and toning down on glitzy and elaborate pieces in favor of more subdued items — tactics expected to get apprehensive shoppers back in the mood to spend.
“People are still doing business, and stores can’t sell from an empty cart,” said Roy Kean, owner of the New York handbag showroom Accessories That Matter. “They need merchandise or they are out of business, so the key for us is to offer the best customer service and product.”
Forecasting the next six months, many agreed it is essential for vendors to guide retailers to buy the proper mix of merchandise to minimize the amount of unsold merchandise.
“We have to be very focused and make sure we are putting the right new product into stores,” said Helen Welsh, president and chief executive officer of New York-based The Helen Welsh Group. Welsh opened her new multiline showroom during the August market, featuring a smattering of well-priced accessories vendors and a workshop to put together private label lines.
For the spring market, she said she expects price points to play a crucial role.
“People will be looking for something that makes them happy, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money,” Welsh said. “So we have to give them the right product, with great quality and the right price.”
Price points will take on even more significance over the next six months, as many analysts expect the luxury sector to take a beating in coming months.
A report released by Goldman Sachs a week after the terrorist attacks stated that the tragedy could exacerbate luxury firms’ existing economic woes since consumer confidence is expected to spiral downward. The report also warned investors to brace for a more immediate and protracted slowdown than initially forecast.
“The atrocities are likely to trigger a serious cut in consumption, coming on the heels of a weaker global economy and the threat of rising unemployment,” said the report, compiled by Goldman Sachs equity analysts Jacques-Franck Dossin, Aaron Fisher and Kathryn Brown.
The report predicted that sales of aspirational or fashion brands would probably be most affected by the attacks.
“The designer market will be affected the most because it will seem almost garish to have the newest and latest [fashions]. It will be a return to more classic styling,” said Craig Chorney, fashion director at Accessory Network in New York.
Kean, at Accessories That Matter, also said that he will only be developing branded luxury lines with which customers are already familiar.
“It’s going to be an easier sell,” he said. “I won’t be adding unknown luxury brands, which I project will be the hardest part of the market.”
Since the attacks, vendors said that designs are likely to take a somber turn away from the excessive embellishments and use of color that permeated the accessories industry for a few years.
“[The business] will come back, but it will be different,” said Dale Lindholm, president of New York-based Pure Accessories. “Whatever the trend will be, it will be simple and more basic.”
Lindholm said he expects softer tones with a subdued, “comfort feeling” to dominate the color palate.
Accessory Network’s Chorney said, “Consumers are still going to buy, but their need and purchasing power will have to be heightened through visuals.”
He added, “What’s going to stimulate consumers are such things as signage, hangtags or creative display fixtures to increase consumer awareness. This will come from partnerships between retailers and manufacturers.”
Chorney said that since the attacks, the company has experienced a resurgence in the demand for home products and “anything that creates comfort and nesting, and that can enhance someone’s leisure time.”
Others, too, have seen a rise in the demand for spiritual items with meaning.
“For the fourth quarter, stores need to buy things, but I think they will buy novelty items, with peace symbols or message jewelry which is calm and signals hope and peace,” said Janet Goldman, president at Fragments in New York.
Since the attacks, many showrooms also experienced an unprecedented increase in the demand for immediates with patriotic imagery, leaving many companies scrambling to find fibers, fabrics and hardware to put together such groups.
“We need to communicate that it is OK to feel good,” said Goldman. “[Consumers] are willing to buy, but it’s not just for immediate gratification. It has to have value. Patriotic items bring them in; they are a great hook.”
Goldman asked her designers to create special patriotic jewelry and chose to donate 100 percent of proceeds to the Twin Towers Fund and the American Red Cross.
Some firms, however, are more cautious of the trend and its shelf life.
“We want to wear a red, white and blue ribbon or rhinestone pin, or put a flag in our windows,” said Yvette Fry, owner of her eponymous showroom. “That’s where the meaning is. Does anybody need a handbag with an American flag on it?”
That said, most industry executives said this wave of interest in Americana-themed accessories would make up for some of the orders lost due to order cancellations.
With American-inspired accessories, the challenge for many was to be speedy on production and delivery, since stores wanted items immediately to attract customers that may not feel like spending, given the circumstances.
“People are not projecting their dollars as much,” said Brad Frey, president at DP Accessories in New York. “When spring comes, [stores] are going to realize they haven’t made enough orders, and they are going to turn to those who can deliver the fastest.” Frey said some of the designers his firm represents are increasing their inventories up to 25 percent in anticipation of this trend. He said that the catalog business has not been affected, perhaps because people are spending more time at home. “Catalogs are a category we are focusing on, and we anticipate to increase that business by 25 percent,” he said.
“The challenge is quick response, with customer service to take care of customer needs,” said Karen Erickson, co-owner of New York’s Showroom Seven. “We have to be ready to work hard.”