Byline: Alessandra Ilari

MILAN — There’s no curing accessories fever among leading fashion firms here.
From apparel manufacturers to designer labels and footwear makers, more and more Italian companies are launching or broadening their accessories collections.
The outbreak is not without cause. Accessories are delivering stellar sales results, figure prominently in most lists of best-selling items online and are enjoying great media and retail exposure. Such strengths combined make the category currently a viable road to growth for the Italians.
During fall-winter 2000-2001 fashion week here, the scene was brimming with excitement over accessories, as new or improved collections cropped up both on and off the runways. Among those obviously smitten were Missoni, Hogan, Piazza Sempione, Strenesse by Gabriele Strehle, Les Copains and Samsonite.
It is clear that accessories have become serious business, said Gerd Strehle, chairman of Strenesse AG. “Accessories today don’t complete a look, they make a look,” he said. “There’s more interest in accessories than clothes, so I believe that this sector will explode even more in the future.”
Vittorio Missoni, marketing manager for the Missoni fashion house, painted a similar picture. “Once upon a time, it was all about the total look, but today, the real status symbol is an accessory,” Missoni said. “A colorfully striped scarf, a great bag or funky shoes will make the difference against basic clothing.”
Piazza Sempione caught the accessories bug straight from its customers. “Aside from the fact that we were tired of using other people’s accessories to complete the look, our clients requested a total look from us,” said Roberto Monti, who along with his wife, Marisa Guerrizio, owns the company based here.
As much as everyone would like to be first with the next mega-trend to follow the Baguette bag, each company here is clearly honing an accessories strategy with its existing image and apparel design imprint in mind. For the most part, executives emphasized the need to impose limits on accessories collections so that they don’t create confusion. Focusing on a selected number of looks, fashioned in various colors, fabrics and textures, is the order of the day.
For Missoni, small leather handbags, enriched with colorfully patterned fabric insets, jazzed up the fall-winter 2000-2001 collection on the runway.
“Our scarves have always performed really well,” said Missoni, “but lately, we have concentrated on bags and shoes, and we’re studying our new stores to accommodate the accessories.”
While accessories currently account for 10 percent of the house’s $115 million sales volume (U.S. dollars converted from lire), Missoni expects the figure to double in the next three years.
Strenesse ventured into the accessories world three years ago, but Strehle admitted that this is the first season in which the firm presents a complete collection, and one that exudes the right style. The shoe range includes boots and pumps with stiletto or chunky heels in various heights — and, at times, adorned with whipstitching. The bags sport graphic shapes and come in combinations of leather with tweeds or pinstripes. There are also pleated numbers in soft napa and Forties-inspired ponyskin shoulder bags.
Strehle said Strenesse’s accessory business now is expected to climb by 30 to 50 percent each year.
Piazza Sempione’s bags and shoes are designed to top off its apparel business, which is built around high-end classics and registers steady 90 percent sell-outs each season. Apparel garnered annual retail volume of $86 million in 1999.
“We hope that our accessories business will account for 20 percent of total sales within the next three years,” said owner Monti.
Piazza Sempione’s accessories distribution currently includes 140 points of sale in Italy, Germany and the U.S.; but ideally, Monti would like for the bags to be carried in all 500 of his doors worldwide.
The bags have retro shapes and are available in either leather or corduroy, lined with colorfully printed silks. Colors include chocolate brown, flame orange and maroon. Wholesale prices average $237 for bags and $210 for shoes.
For some designers, accessories serve not as a complement to apparel collections, but as the starting point. “Samsonite means luggage, so I wanted the clothes to complement the accessories and not vice versa,” said Gigi Vezzola, the designer of Samsonite’s ready-to-wear collection, which debuted with the fall season.
Vezzola joined Samsonite after stints at Krizia and Dolce & Gabbana. He said his goal was to create bags that are as glamorous as they are practical, making life easier even for the busiest career women. Bag styles include revised versions of Fifties beauty cases, totes with a small compartment for cellular phones or portable umbrellas and briefcases with mirrors. Materials include a cognac napa, a wine-red wool crepe and a silk mikado, each paired with leather or reptile. The bags, which wholesale for $94 on average, are carried in 50 doors worldwide including Saks and Bagutta in the U.S.