SCARVES, HANDBAGS GET EARLY FALL FOCUS

Byline: Wendy Hessen / Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Like an engine with a seemingly endless amount of fuel, accessories appear to be continuing their successful run.
As is the case with many March markets, leather goods and scarf resources were key destinations for stores ordering fall merchandise, whereas other categories, like jewelry, are still focusing on reorder activity for late spring and summer. Color and embellishment continue to be the big draws. Among the looks in demand:
Scarves: Pashmina is still hot, but solids are being replaced by pieces with decorative touches and printed versions; the entire cold weather arena is getting attention with demand for more variety in materials and trimmings, and classic status looks in a myriad of prints and patterns are returning, albeit with new uses such as halter tops, head wraps and belts.
Handbags and small leather goods: Real and faux python or crocodile, in natural hues or painted versions. Python in particular has gotten colorized in brights or softer shades of blue, purple or green. The baguette shape is being edged out by larger styles in strong silhouettes including boxy or vertical totes, larger shoulder bags, frame styles and numerous versions of the bowling bag.
One of the most satisfying developments for scarf vendors has come out of their experiences with pashmina, according to Steven Roberts, president of the Echo Design Group.
“Stores have recognized that they can sell $200 to $600 merchandise in an open-sell environment, and they see it now as a positive opportunity,” said Roberts.
“They know they can now have some fun in the whole scarf category and it doesn’t have to be about a $20 product. We still feel strongly about pashmina too. It is definitely here to stay, especially for the more upscale stores.”
The strength of pashmina and the return of the classic silk market were the primary reasons behind Roberts’s optimism. “This is our biggest market, and the reaction has been amazing. The stores are so upbeat. We may be somewhat aggressive, but I think we have an opportunity to grow as much as 25 percent this year. We still have hot items and novelties, but now we will also have a wonderful print business.”
Liz Claiborne’s strategy was to get behind certain trends and extend them throughout the firm’s multiple accessories categories.
“We’re focused on reducing our sku’s and letting our stores know what we believe in,” said Helen Welsh, president of the accessories division. The company is focusing on three themes for fall: a romantic vintage direction with berry shades and rose or crochet details; modern contrasts, featuring graphic plaids and leaves, and folk classics, which hones in on a variety of embroideries and appliqued looks.
New versions of embellishment and strong colors were key directions for fall in handbags, according to Roy Kean, owner of the showroom, Accessories That Matter.
Among his strongest sellers were a brightly colored, faux iridescent python group with matching real mink trim by Mena; a patchwork series in faux python, laser hair calf and metallic leather from Pibra, and crinkle patent leather looks from Nicole Miller and Cerruti. Overall, shades of red and purple, greens and the occasional orange or turquoise attracted the most attention from buyers.
Beyond zeroing in on the next hot item or trend, there is some indication that industry executives are starting to take a long hard look at how they will keep the accessories momentum going and also address the needs of today’s changing consumers.
There is a whole new crop of flush shoppers out there, and making them fans of a particular brand requires a new approach. That message was hammered home by panelists at “The Next Generation of Affluence,” a discussion sponsored by The Accessory Council.
Christopher Cedergren, managing director of Nextrend, a trend consulting firm; Suzy Weisinger, assistant vice president at Cartier and president of its in-house advertising agency, and Tom Julian, trend analyst at advertising agency Fallon McElligott, all spoke of ways to entice these highly educated and independent consumers.
“The affluent market has boomed since 1990, and luxury goods sales are booming in every area,” Cedergren said. “People are making more than ever before. Generation Y is getting used to luxury at a younger age, and they will be wealthy at a much earlier age than their parents, some in their twenties.”
The basic beliefs about luxury are different now, he said. Consumers now expect luxury items and products that offer personalization, time savings, and service and emotion over the old tenets of luxury, which centered around quality, value and the desire to impress, Cedegren said.
The best way to attract the next generation is to “court them while they are young, be genuine in your approach, provide a clear identity and position, and provide flexibility and customization,” Cedegren said.
Julian stressed three factors that are key to attracting consumers today: experience, ethnicity and entertainment. “Being enthralled and entertained by the shopping experience is required now and there must be a global message that appeals to people of all backgrounds,” he said.
In a challenge to retailers, Julian said “the time to reinvent accessories departments in department stores is now. Even with accessories doing very well, the category stands to lose ground to such beauty firms as Sephora, where an exciting and engaging shopping experience is a constant focus.”
He pointed to Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and the Icing as stores that already offer a strong accessories experience.
Cedergren noted that a lot of growth among affluent consumers has come from women, who now comprise 42 percent of the population making more than $100,000 a year, compared with 22 percent of that population in 1980. Women now account for about 34 percent of the ultrarich who command annual salaries of more than $250,000, up from 15 percent of that segment in 1980, according to Cedergren.
At Cartier, the upscale jewelry and accessories firm, the product and advertising focus has shifted to younger consumers aged 24 to 30, said Weisinger. The company’s products and store designs are now geared towards enticing younger consumers’ aspirations, and the company has honed its marketing message to convey an updated attitude. Like some of its competitors, Cartier is in the process of redesigning its store interiors and undertaking some new initiatives to reflect a more approachable attitude and to combat “door phobia.”
“We’re starting to show prices on some of the merchandise in our windows and placing entry level-priced pieces near the door,” she said.
Its print advertising campaign — which features vibrant, computerized images of Cartier merchandise — is now more focused on national, rather than local and regional markets, and the firm is planning to soon launch its first U.S. television campaign, which portrays Cartier in a series of fast-paced lifestyle and product images. Although Cartier is deliberately courting younger consumers, Weisinger reiterated the firm’s contention that is has no plans to launch an e-commerce strategy.

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