ALL ABOARD THE LUXE WEEKENDER, A HANDBAG PHENOMENON THAT HAS VENDORS AND RETAILERS PACKING THEM IN.
Byline: Marc Karimzadeh
There is no reason to hibernate on weekends anymore.
From ready-to-wear labels to designers and retailers, the accessories business has caught the travel bug and is offering weekender bags destined to take both the bulk and the bore out of travel accessories.
This resurgence of the travel classification with handbag makers has not arrived out of the blue. Designers and vendors alike are pointing with enthusiasm to an easily excitable consumer as well as attendant healthy margins, together offering ample reason for travel to become the latest buzzword in a category looking for more ways to cash in.
The key to this hot market phenomenon is that consumers are eager to take short getaways, but in style; and the healthy economy is encouraging them to transform their perception of the weekend bag from a ho-hum necessity to a lifestyle statement. The translation: an emergence of “practical luxe,” light and functional, yet luxurious and impeccably designed bags that are more than handbags, less than luggage and stylish from their classy exteriors to their whimsical linings.
At retail, many fashion and specialty merchants are making room for these bags, even if they haven’t considered the travel classification before.
“There is really not a lot of nice luggage,” said Richard Lambertson, partner in the Lambertson Truex luxury accessories business. “As fashion is getting dressier, people want to look better at the airport, on the boat or the train.”
Lambertson Truex is offering weekenders in a variety of luxurious fabrications, including Italian linen with leather trim styles, in cognac or black with contrasting stitching. The duo has also put together larger, brightly colored, striped weekenders made in an “awning-stripe” canvas, a type of striped cloth usually associated with seaside items like awnings and beach umbrellas.
Handbag designer Angela Amiri said the current craze for luxurious weekenders is a reaction to years of the uniform luggage styles that have been rolling in and out of airport terminals.
“[Weekenders now] are whimsical and fun,” Amiri noted. Indeed, they are the antithesis of the basic black suitcase, she added, which is why they are particularly popular right now.
“There is something indulgent and fun about a girl walking across an airport with a fabulous bag, especially now with fashion being so ladylike,” she noted.
Amiri’s weekenders feature prints such as black bamboo groves with patent crocodile leather, or palace birds with poppy red leather.
Consumers are flocking to stores for fancy weekenders for short travel as well because of the increasing popularity of upscale, boutique hotels in many American cities, explained handbag designer Maria Turgeon.
“People are going to want to arrive in style, and they don’t want to be burdened by luggage, whether they are taking the jitney or the train,” said Turgeon.
But beyond declaring the need to add some fizz to the travel segment, vendors concede that women, now more educated about accessories than ever before, are increasingly interested in using their choice of accessories to make a lifestyle statement.
“The weekenders are another extension of [the woman’s] personality,” said Amiri. “People are much more conscious of their individuality,” said Craig Chorney, fashion director at the accessories manufacturer Accessory Network. “Weekenders are much more identifiable, with the bag having become a status symbol for women. They define who she is much more than before, which is what’s now happening in luggage, too.”
Accessory Network has been venturing into weekenders in some of its lines, including Main Terminal.
“[In the past] people had no choice but to go to the luggage department for ugly luggage,” Chorney noted. “But now, fashion accessories have gotten in on the act. Choice is a huge factor, and we are giving the consumer more choices as she’s more globally aware.”
Overall, vendors say that the main reason interest in stylish travel accessories for shorter trips keeps growing is that the economy continues to look robust, which in turn is encouraging consumers to upgrade their lifestyles. The key, however, is that the nature of the New Economy is not one to encourage long, languorous trips.
While travel, whether for business or for pleasure, has become much more common among young professional Americans, the pace of work at the typical Internet start-up or other New Economy firm restricts many of them from taking longer leaves from the job. Thus, while they’re earning lots of money, this stratum of the market is increasingly looking at weekends as the only viable alternative for injecting rest and relaxation into an otherwise hectic professional life. “People are buying second homes again,” said Chorney. “Particularly in the summer, they are jumping on the train to get away for the weekend.”
If the getaway’s got to be quick, then it better be done with plenty of style.
For vendors, this is a clear green light for stepping up their travel offerings to the handbag consumer.
Jerome Jacques, L.A. partner of handbags line Un Apres-Midi de Chien, also noted the growing trend of weekend breaks, classifying it as a particularly urban trend.
“In L.A., people go to Vegas or Carmel,” he said. “There is no more three-week holiday, and it is easier to carry luggage that is not too heavy.”
Un Apres-Midi de Chien has been offering larger bags for a while, and Jacques explained that with the average age of the spending consumer now lower than ever before, there are more single travelers who don’t have to consider spouses or children when traveling. This, he said, has added to the demand for light, functional travel pieces.
“People are into lifestyle now,” said Kim Isaacson, who designs the Clever Carriage Co. line of functional bags. “I saw that people were traveling more and having babies later.”
The Clever Carriage Co. is offering weekenders in red and white and blue and white, each lined to “make a statement and make them practical.”
Lining, in fact, seems to be an important style feature in getting the customer to make a decision on which weekender she wants to kick her getaway break off with, according to designers and vendors.
“[The weekender is about] the trend of luxe and practical luxe,” explained Santiago Barberi, director of sales and marketing at Colombia-based handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s larger weekend bags are lined with suede and feature “hidden pockets,” which “gives you a touch of intimacy with the bag,” Barberi said.
“Whimsical lining is part of the imaging,” agreed Angela Amiri, whose weekenders feature contrasting lining of a quality and attractiveness as desirable as the exterior prints.
Maria Turgeon, too, has started experimenting with lining because she thought it could add another point of sale to handbags.
“I had done black lining,” she said. “For this fall season, I had lined [the weekenders] in red polyvinyl, which is not just practical, but also makes a big difference to the style. It looks beautiful when you open the bag.”
While handbag designers are obviously very excited about the growing expansion of the travel classification, retailers, too, have been seizing on it as an opportunity to expand their accessories business. They report that high-end weekenders are accounting for sizable proportions of their overall increases in sales.
Some retailers, however, are still trying to figure out how best to accommodate the trend, grappling with questions such as whether weekenders should be merchandised with luggage or handbags.
Department stores especially may be having a difficult time with this question, noted Robert Rokoff, creative director at Maxx New York. “We are selling [our weekenders] to small specialty stores; it’s easy for them to pick them up,” he said. However, many department stores wouldn’t necessarily know how to classify them, he said.
One upshot of the trend is a growing number of retailers considering the installation of special lifestyle departments that would embrace travel concepts such as the weekender. While department stores in larger urban areas seem more likely to embrace the trend, some other retailers are being more cautious, suspecting that weekenders remain an urban phenomenon.
“So far, we haven’t really been selling larger bags,” said Mark Wilson, handbag buyer at Dallas-based store Stanley Korshak. “The women here drive. If they go away, they use their luggage, and our customer has very luxurious luggage.”
Lori Hirshleifer, vice president and buyer at retailer Hirshleifer at the Americana in Manhasset, N.Y., also said her Long Island consumer has so far not boarded the weekender bag train.
“Most of the women here are not working women,” she said. “They shop and lunch. And when they travel, they drive and travel with larger luggage.”
Not so with the online shopper, however. Natalie Massenet, founder and managing director of the e-commerce site Net-a-porter.com, said her operation fields special orders for the Maria Turgeon snakeskin weekenders, in particular from the U.S. and Hong Kong markets.
“After black nylon luggage — and people not being able to identify their suitcase at the airport anymore — people now want to differentiate themselves,” explained Massenet. Net-a-porter.com is continuing to offer Turgeon’s weekenders and, due to much demand, is selling the gold snakeskin version for fall.
Massenet added that she believes the current trend for increased luxury purchases in general has generated a halo effect for interest in the weekender.
“It’s like a woman who wears red shoes,” she said. “You know she has a lot of shoes, which is why she goes for the red pair. It really says, you’ve got money.”