NEW YORK — With simplicity emerging as a key fashion trend for the Nineties, accessories are starting to look like the industry’s biggest casualty.
The underaccessorized look may have not actually cut into overall accessories volume. However, after several seasons of runway shows and fashion magazine spreads nearly devoid of jewelry, belts, gloves and other accoutrements, many in the accessories business are bristling.
For some, the final straw came when Karl Lagerfeld — last decade’s champion of the piled-on approach to accessorization — took a dramatically more sparse route for Chanel’s recent spring couture show.
“When someone like Lagerfeld, who did so much for accessories with Chanel just a few years ago, starts going minimal and showing little or nothing, it looks ridiculous,” said accessories designer Robert Lee Morris.
“Not only is it bad for our industry, but it also makes total fashion victims out of people, like they’re being dictated to by designers and can’t decide for themselves whether to load accessories on or go completely without, Morris added.”
The unadorned look, most agree, stems from a backlash reaction to Eighties excess. But as accessories designer Barry Kieselstein Cord noted, downplaying ostentation in this way can end up backfiring.
“The whole idea of paring down is getting away from a look that screams money, but when someone is wearing a clean and simple Armani suit, even without one piece of jewelry, she’s still basically announcing that she spent thousands of dollars on her clothes,” Kieselstein Cord said.
“The concept behind accessories is that a woman can use them to update the clothes she already has, instead of having to go and buy all new clothes,” he added. “But again, what this trend is saying is that women have to buy twice as many clothes instead of accessorizing. I think the whole thing is absurd.”
Some, such as jewelry designer Gerard Yosca, tie the trend to tough times in the fashion industry.
“As far as ready-to-wear designers go, I think their business is so difficult right now that they don’t even have time to think about accessories,” Yosca said. “And fashion magazines that are looking to stir up interest by giving their stories a new look often start leaving out accessories.”
Handbag designer Carlos Falchi expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think some fashion designers have difficulty understanding accessories and how to present them, and worry that they might take away from the clothing,” Falchi noted. Still, no matter how unaccessorized fashion currently appears, the perception may be more hurtful than the reality. None of the vendors or retailers interviewed for this piece said their overall accessories sales had suffered as a direct result. Most claimed the business continues to grow.
“There is sometimes a correlation in a particular classification,” said Joanne Hart, fashion director of accessories for Federated Merchandising here, a division of Federated Department Stores Inc., Cincinnati.
Hart, like many other merchants, added that if a specific classification doesn’t show up at all on the runways, sales might weaken for that season. As with clothing, scale and length trends may change in areas such as handbags or jewelry, she noted, but it doesn’t mean that these items stop selling altogether.
In fact, some of these trends end up having real staying power, as in the case with small earrings, which first started showing up on Kate Moss in CK Calvin Klein advertisements in summer 1992 and are still considered the hottest look in the classification.
“But no matter how little accessories are being shown by designers, I tell my buyers not to panic because as far as we can tell, women still want to be accessorized and want that option to update their wardrobes,” Hart said.
Sandra Wilson, fashion director of accessories for Neiman Marcus, characterized the minimal movement as one of the growing number of options retailers are finding they need to present to consumers.
“There will always be customers who want classic chain belts and tailored jewelry, but now, if a woman decides she wants to go with a simpler look, we need to show her accessories that work with that, too,” Wilson said.
“It’s not so much that accessories aren’t part of the minimal trend as it is a much more focused approach that plays up one piece,” she added.
Simonetta Morrison, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for accessories at Bergdorf Goodman, took this concept one step further.
“I see this as part of the whole ‘strong woman of the Nineties’ feeling,” Morrison noted. “I think a lot of women shop for accessories now independently of shopping for clothing, and look at accessorizing as a way of making a statement about individuality.”
In light of this, Morrison said, many of the accessories collections that have been performing well for Bergdorf’s of late are those by designers such as Kieselstein Cord and others who have developed recognizable signature styles.
This shift of attention from wearing lots of accessories to emphasizing one unique, meaningful piece is also the explanation offered by design houses such as Chanel.
“The accessories are still showing up in our runway presentations, but the attention is on single, important pieces,” said Barbara Cirkva, senior vice president of Chanel Inc. “We’re finding more and more that that’s how many of our clients want to accessorize, with pieces that can’t be found anywhere else.
Many in the accessories field pointed to Lagerfeld and Chanel as the most influential fashion forces in terms of shaping accessories trends, with some also naming Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier as key trendsetters.
But as millinery designer Patricia Underwood pointed out, “Designers should use accessories in their runway shows only when it’s an integral part of their whole look. Otherwise, it does more harm than good to force it because the accessories look inappropriate and unwearable.”
Calvin Klein, a longstanding specialist in the minimal look, backed up that viewpoint when he said in an interview here several weeks ago, “If there’s more spare around today, it’s a reaction to all the glitzy stuff of the Eighties. But in the Eighties, I wasn’t doing it — that look that shouts, ‘Hello, look at me,’ with lots of brass buttons, lots of brass jewelry.”
Even for fashion houses with big investments in accessories licensing, what shows up on the runway comes down to one person — the designer.
“We do the full collection of accessories every season, and Richard Tyler is heavily involved in the designing of them to ensure that everything has a consistent look,” said Burt Wayne, president of Anne Klein Studio, the licensing arm of Anne Klein & Co. “Everything is designed to work with the clothes, but in the final analysis, Richard is the one who decides what to use and how to use it in the shows.”