OH MY GAUD
ACCESSORIES ARE HOLLYWOOD’S NEWEST, FLASHIEST STATUS SYMBOLS — AND THE MORE EXCLUSIVE, THE BETTER.
Byline: Sally Horchow
LOS ANGELES — From the sequins and beading on an Isabella Fiore handbag to the Swarovski crystals embedded in a Noir belt buckle, the glamour girls of Tinseltown are still wild about adornment, and they are flocking to specialty boutiques to find it.
Business is booming. In a town where signature style has become a measure of status, people are not afraid to spend on accessories as a way to attain it or flaunt it.
The resurgence of Eighties-style flashiness in apparel is also being repeated as a theme in many jewelry and handbag designs.
“The Eighties thing isn’t going away at all,” said Yunnie Kim, owner of the Tiara Too boutique in Fred Segal Santa Monica. “It may eventually go back to minimalism, but for now, in jewelry, it’s flashy and sparkly and layers and the gaudy look.”
One of the beneficiaries of this boom is Jennifer Kaufman, whose eponymous store is in the Beverly Center, where entertainment industry stylists and fashionistas alike are buying anything sparkling, anything gold and anything they can’t find anywhere else.
“It’s an excellent time,” said Kaufman. “There is not an accessory in the store people don’t want.”
Last fall, Kaufman upgraded to a 950-square-foot location, more than double the previous space she’d occupied in the mall when she opened in 1989.
Kaufman’s biggest sellers are rings and earrings in the $1,500 to $10,000 range. A popular hoop earring that incorporates two strong currents right now — yellow gold and sparkle — comes in 22-karat with sapphires and retails at $5,000.
“They’re not holding back right now,” concurred Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson on Robertson. “The consumer is very relaxed and, well, easy to convince.”
His store, which has been recognized for its originality and freshness since opening in April, is a stall-like retailing concept similar to Ron Herman-Fred Segal and has become another popular one-stop shop here for the most stylish accessories.
At Kitson, Ross showcases unique jewelry by designers like Jade Jagger and Sage, whose necklaces pair vintage charms with semiprecious and precious beads. He also makes a statement with the fur handbags of Serpui Marie and silk flower pins by Nicole & Co.
But many women shop at Kitson simply for its extensive stock of Isabella Fiore, the eye-catching novelty bag with animal fabrics and beaded flowers. The Fiore handbag has become the status symbol du jour, seen on Angelenos such as Jennifer Aniston and Meg Ryan.
Most popular for early fall is the dolly-framed “Ocelot” bag with beaded peonies, and it is expected that the “Pug” bag and “Mod Girl” will become must-have styles when shipped in coming months.
Los Angeles-based Isabella Fiore Inc. has consistently received $40,000-$60,000 orders from department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus since its inception in 1998, but design director Trang Huynh credits boutiques like Kitson and Ice/Sparkle in Fred Segal Santa Monica for the line’s widespread exposure.
Huynh said stylists turn to these stores for their clients — and for editorial that can make a huge impact on an item’s popularity.
The firm’s “Monkey” bag with bamboo handles, for example, became ubiquitous after it was chosen from Kitson and featured in InStyle magazine last spring.
Although sales for smaller designer bags haven’t quite faded — the Louis Vuitton accessory bag is continuously sold out of every Louis Vuitton boutique in the city — the movement to the larger, more functional bag is apparent all over town.
Tiara Too’s Kim has a case of small evening bags, like the popular gold mesh bag from Noir. For fall, however, her strongest sellers are totes and bowling style bags in leather and tweed.
“It’s about the young, career-oriented woman who wants something different but functional, that can go from work out to dinner,” Kim said.
Another category getting bigger in both size and sales is eyewear. For obvious reasons, sunglasses have always been an essential accessory in Los Angeles. But lately, their role has expanded.
Ruth Handel, spokeswoman for l.a. Eyeworks, the 21-year-old design company with a store on Melrose Avenue, said locals are willing to make an investment immediately on more than one pair of glasses.
“People are creating a wardrobe for sunglasses,” she said. “And they’re not afraid to make a very strong statement.”
From l.a. Eyeworks’ own line, which claims 60 percent of the Melrose store stock, the 22-karat gold frames retailing at $380 are selling like hotcakes.
But by far the most popular frame in the store is the rimless Prada frame “75A,” which retails at $200.
Prada and brands such as Chanel and Oliver Peoples are also the biggest sellers at Neiman Marcus, which shares a similar clientele with l.a. Eyeworks — the customer who wants to look fashionable by choosing the more recognizable luxury brands.
Hipper consumers, meanwhile, are returning to boutiques for the next trends in eyewear, which these days, ironically, means looking to the past.
Stylist Alexander Guiterrez often shops at Cynthia Benjamin on Beverly Boulevard for the large vintage Christian Dior and Sergio Valente frames the store carries.
“It’s about exclusivity,” said Guiterrez, who has created looks for the music videos of Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, and Gwen Stefani. “It’s about taking new and old merchandise that’s hard to get, and putting your own personal tweak on it.”
Guiterrez and other trend-watchers also look to Diavolina on La Brea for shoes and handbags and Mint Collection on Melrose for jewelry.
According to Benjamin Montoya, co-owner of Cynthia Benjamin, the hottest hipster eyewear line is a rimless aviator by Ojo called “2001,” available in 40 different lens color options so every person who buys the frames creates a unique look. Some 15 to 20 pairs per week are blowing out at $297 retail.
Histoire du Voir’s leather and cowhide arms and colored lenses are another unusual design popular with customers of Cynthia Benjamin and at Selima Optical, which opened its West Coast branch of the popular Bond Street store in January. In general, the Los Angeles sunglasses look for fall is large and rimless, with the Seventies radiant lenses and Eighties glam look the most sought after, according to officials at the store.
And Jennifer Kaufman is expecting designs like the Noir cascade necklace in multicolored airbrush to be one of many “Dynasty”-meets-video-arcade designs for winter through spring 2001.
The staying power of specialized jewelry, such as anklets, toe rings and belly chains, is a Los Angeles-specific phenomenon. The Tarina Tarantino and Me & Ro designs have sold thousands at Jennifer Kaufman, Kitson and Ice/Sparkle.
But by far the biggest news in accessories here is the renaissance of the belt. Whether due to the addition of belt loops in the low-slung hipster jeans that prevail this season, or the sexy slinkiness that runs rampant among all Los Angeles dressers, belts are a new emphasis — and they are everywhere.
The sliver rhinestone strand remains strong in boutiques like Kaufman’s, even though it has reached saturation through low price points and high teen focus elsewhere. (Rampage retails a version at $32.) The most popular belt at both Jennifer Kaufman and Kitson features multicolored crystal-encrusted buckles on thick leather by Noir and Paige Roberts.
Tracey Ross has created a variation, pairing vintage rock star buckles with thick leather for her store on Robertson. The one-of-a-kind “Elvis” belt in rainbow colors is a bestseller, as well as the “Meat Loaf” and “Alice Cooper” in black with a silvery sticker. “When I opened five years ago, I had belts in the store, and I couldn’t sell them,” Ross said. “Now belts are so in; the vintage ones are blowing out.”
The ability to personalize the name plates on Noir belts, or to custom-order Maud’s studded “belts with a kick,” as Kaufman refers to them, makes the items “exclusive and special,” the most important words for the fashion-forward Angeleno shopper. This is also evidenced by the huge popularity of Nomination’s 18-karat gold and precious necklace at Kitson, which the customer can personalize at $17 to $28 per symbol or letter.
“There’s this internal female fashion war going on here,” mused Tracey Ross. “It’s, ‘Who has the nicest purse? Who has the coolest handbag?’ People want to get compliments from the stuff they wear. They want someone to say, ‘Where did you get that?”‘ Chances are, they got it at a boutique like hers.
TOP FIVE TRENDSETTING ACCESSORY RETAILERS
1. Jennifer Kaufman at the Beverly Center, 131 North La Cienega #650, Los Angeles. Jewelry, handbags, belts, hair accessories. (310) 854-1058.
2. Tiara/Tiara Too at Fred Segal Santa Monica Fred Segal, 500 Broadway, Santa Monica. Handbags. (310) 394-8186.
3. Kitson, 115 South Robertson, Los Angeles. Handbags, jewelry, belts, hair accessories. (310) 859-2652.
4. Ron Herman-Fred Segal, 8118 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. Jewelry. (323) 651-4129.
5. Cynthia Benjamin, 7375 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. Eyewear. (323) 954-0336.
TOP FIVE ACCESSORIES IN LOS ANGELES:
1. Belt: Noir rhinestone on leather. $200 retail at Jennifer Kaufman and Kitson.
2. Sunglasses: Ojo rimless aviator. $297 retail at Cynthia Benjamin or Selima Optical.
3. Handbag: Isabella Fiore “Peonies Ocelot” bag. $365 retail from Parallel Lines showroom L.A./Cynthia O’Connor showroom NYC.
4. Jewelry: Nomination 18-karat gold and precious personalized necklace. Starting retail $120 at Kitson.
5. Specialized Accessory: Paige Roberts studded hair bandannas. $85 retail at Jennifer Kaufman and Kitson.