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There’s nothing quite like a great-looking accessories department. Generally located on the main floor, it’s a store’s entry point, which gives customers that all-important first impression that will last as she wanders through each department. In recent years, several department and specialty stores have tried to bolster their image by giving their accessories departments a consumer-friendly facelift.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

From Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York to Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor, a slew of stores have reconfigured their main-floor layouts, creating wider aisles and adding clearer display fixtures — all while sharply editing the assortment. In the process, many have stepped up the number of handbag and bridge jewelry resources — hot categories in recent years — and singled out real estate to showcase must-have trends each season.

Last December, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its new accessories concept at the Manhattan flagship’s main floor. The department features centrally located designer collections from such labels and designers as Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Lambertson Truex, Coach, Isabella Fiore, Miu Miu, and Eric Javits. These are flagged by luxury leather goods in-store shops for Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, Tod’s and Longchamp that line the perimeter of the main floor. Louis Vuitton will be added later this year.

The shops were designed in collaboration with the brand’s retail architects, but are operated by Saks, except for Dior, Ferragamo and Vuitton, which are leased. In the new layout, the main floor real estate for handbags increased by 57 percent, while the square footage for soft accessories remained about the same.

“In terms of trends, accessories are running the highest increases for us right now, and are second, in terms of volume, next to women’s ready-to-wear,” Christina Johnson, SFA’s president and chief executive officer, said during a walk-through of the department last year.

Bloomingdale’s, meanwhile, also renovated the main floor of its Lexington Avenue flagship in 2001. Formerly cluttered with multiple classifications, its main floor now appears orderly, with distinct islands and fixtures dotted around a circular, frosted-glass structure that store executives refer to as the “cul-de-sac.”

In the process, the company has moved sheers off the main floor and given more real estate to fashion accessories and costume jewelry, including Carolee.

“The accessories category has been explosive within our stores,” Francine Klein, Bloomingdale’s general merchandise manager, said at the time. “New York has been growing at a particularly fast pace and we were not able to maximize opportunities. In order to do so, we felt it was critical to reallocate space appropriately.”

In 2001, Barneys New York also joined the list of retailers reconfiguring its accessories department. It moved its cosmetics department, previously located on the main floor, to the lower level, opening about 3,700 square feet of real estate to accessories, with an increased assortment of jewelry, handbags and watches, and an in-store boutique devoted to Goyard, the luxury French luggage and leather goods firm.

L&T, meanwhile, has been focusing on giving the customer a more focused assortment of fashion lines and all important trend categories, according to Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising.

“We have eliminated cheaper lines that weighted down the accessory department,” she said. “We have also reinforced our new image by revitalizing our accessory presentation to reflect a more modern, upscale, open, shopping environment.”

While there was no direct renovation on the main floor, the retailer has eliminated sales tables that were clogging the aisles and updated fixturing and visual presentation.

“We have made it easier to shop, more user friendly,” said Olexa. “The customer does not need to call an associate to look at the merchandise to touch it. Handbags, for example, have been taken out of cases. The visual elements do not overpower the merchandise, rather they complement and enhance it.”

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