The Accessories Council is holding its 17th-annual Accessories Council Excellence Awards tonight at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. Here, the honorees.
LEGACY AWARD: THE FRYE COMPANY
A Q&A with Dow Famulak, chief executive officer of LF USA and LF Europe, which are part of Li & Fung, the parent company of Frye:
WWD: For the first time, the Accessories Council is honoring a company with the Legacy Award, which signifies longevity in the industry. After 150 years in the shoe business, has it been a challenge for Frye to remain fresh and original?
Dow Famulak: Frye is an enduring American heritage brand that offers a new discovery for each generation. By remaining true to the core values of the brand, we maintain excitement across generations. Good craftsmanship and quality product are two things that never go out of style.
WWD: The “Legacy Award,” recognizes an individual or organization that has demonstrated excellence and made extraordinary contributions to the industry for 50 years or more. What are some key contributions you have made throughout the years?
D.F.: There have been so many milestones over the 150 years of the brand. We are very proud of the fact that mothers and daughters have bought their Frye boots together. Proud of the fact that since 1998, when we reintroduced the brand, we have been able to not only sustain but drive core family and generational values.
WWD: Please tell me about how Frye has expanded in terms of product.
D.F.: We are delighted that consumers have responded so well to Frye’s expansions into a broader range of footwear, bags and accessories. This has been a natural and organic growth for us. Because Frye is rooted in strong foundational elements, the creative team has a myriad of opportunities to be more creative. Our promise as guardians of the brand is to remain true to core values that were put in place in 1863.
WWD: For the coming year, what does Frye have planned in terms of retail expansion?
D.F.: In 2013, we were fortunate to be able to add three more flagship stores, in Boston, Georgetown and Chicago. This gave us even more opportunity to show the entire breadth of our work and talk directly to consumers. In 2014, we are looking for more opportunities to tell our story and connect with our customers.
BREAKTHROUGH AWARD: RAG & BONE
Despite their brand’s passionate following and subsequent success, David Neville and Marcus Wainwright, the duo behind Rag & Bone, had no concrete plans to launch handbags. That was until Vogue magazine’s Anna Wintour wrote them a note that said, “Rag & Bone better have a handbag.”
“That gave us a little bit of an impetus,” Neville said, of the October 2011 letter. “We started trying to figure out how to do it.”
Founded in 2002, Rag & Bone had only launched a footwear line in 2009, following the launch of its men’s ready-to-wear collection in 2004 and its women’s rtw line in 2005. With the recent launch of denim in 2010, Neville and Wainwright said they had to really “sit down” and mull over what a Rag & Bone bag would look like. That process took about a year, Wainwright noted, adding that since its 2012 debut, handbags, along with shoes, have become Rag & Bone’s “fastest-growing segments.
“We really see that it could be 50 percent of the business one day,” he said, adding that currently the two categories together account for nearly 20 percent of the brand’s overall business.
With price points that sit just under the designer level, Rag & Bone’s footwear and handbags fill a white space, the founders said, noting that the main challenge is keeping up with demand and finding a crop of U.S.-based accessories designers to hire who understand the brand’s aesthetic.
“When we put the Newbury boot out there, it took a couple of seasons to really take off, but now we can’t make them fast enough,” said Wainwright. “It’s the same with the bags. It keeps building up steam. I think we’re off to a good start.”
DESIGNER OF THE YEAR: PHILLIP LIM
Carving a niche in the highly competitive contemporary accessories market is no small feat, especially when your brand is only eight years old.
But Phillip Lim has made it look relatively easy. With a collection that fits squarely into an “accessible designer” price point, Lim’s bags and shoes reflect consumers’ fashion and budget-conscious mind-set.
“When we started the ready-to-wear business, it was about dressing the woman. Now, it’s about the accoutrements, what she holds, how she accessorizes,” designer and cofounder Lim said of his brand 3.1 Phillip Lim.
According to the designer, when he started his business, it was geared toward the “young professional with little disposable income.”
With that mantra in mind, Lim launched bags and shoes in 2011 with the philosophy of making accessories functional yet fashionable.
“I always look at accessories in a practical way, asking how does it work for you,” he said, pointing to the sub-$1,000 price point of his bags and shoes. “When you say fashion, people associate it with an expiration day, but it’s not just about your life on a Friday night. Our accessories have a sense of value. Our customers don’t feel like they are overpaying. They feel like they get great value.”
As a result, accessories have expanded to between 35 to 45 percent of Lim’s total business, with the remainder representing rtw sales. Lim declined to provide sales volume.
The lion’s share of accessories sales growth has really taken place over the last two years, the designer said, noting that in order to capitalize on demand, he is looking to expand his business via new hires and other forms of “holistic growth.”
Lim, who recently collaborated with Target on a fall collection of men’s and women’s apparel, bags and shoes, said he would love to broaden his accessories line.
“I love jewelry,” Lim said. “That comes in the future. Right now, I’m focused on fine-tuning the house.”
BRAND OF THE YEAR: ALEXIS BITTAR
Alexis Bittar’s journey in the jewelry world has been a long one.
The designer, who has been working in costume jewelry for more than 20 years, began by selling his Lucite-centric wares on the streets of New York’s SoHo. Now, Bittar, who sold a 50 percent equity stake in his eponymous company last year, just launched fine jewelry to complement his bridge and costume lines. Sensitive to the size of his consumers’ wallets, Bittar told WWD, “I design to a broad demographic, of consumer and age. In doing so, price determines the complexity of designs. The goal is to design the perfect piece, where the consumer feels that they are always underspending and buying into value and a high-design aesthetic. I believe that luxury is in the details, not in the price point.” Bittar’s core collection has an average price point of $250, and a price range of between $65 and $1,000. Fine jewelry ranges from $395 to $16,000.
OMNICHANNEL RETAILER: NORDSTROM
One of retail’s champions during the economic downturn, Nordstrom has emphasized the importance of smart merchandising and offering value. According to the retailer’s executive vice president and general merchandising manager of accessories, Margaret Myers, Nordstrom is laser-focused on offering a value, no matter the price point.
“We have a full offer across all accessories categories that ranges from opening price points for very young customers all the way to the very best the world has to offer in designer accessories,” she said. “Our customers’ expectations of us prevent us from being one-dimensional in our approach to editing and merchandising. We think about our customers’ price sensitivities at every level of price. This seems to apply all the way from opening-price product to the luxury purchase. What seems to matter to all customers is the question of whether that item is worth it to them at the moment they are making the buying decision.” That strategy has paid dividends for Nordstrom, which expanded its net income 7.6 percent last year to $735 million, or $3.56 a diluted share, on sales that increased 12.1 percent to $11.76 billion.
MARYLOU LUTHER JOURNALISM AWARD: HAMISH BOWLES
WWD: Has a sense of style always come naturally to you, or is it something you’ve cultivated?
Hamish Bowles: I don’t really think I ever thought about it. At high school, I always dressed and thought differently about clothing than my contemporaries did, for instance, and was reviled as a result. It wasn’t cool to dress or think outside the pack, but I wasn’t interested in the pack or being a part of anything then perceived as cool. Personally, even then I didn’t think a pack mentality was cool, and I certainly don’t now. I’m proud that I ambled on in my own fashion even if I suffered for it.
At Saint Martins art school in the early Eighties, however, quirky self-presentation was celebrated and applauded, so I began to flourish and experiment even more. I’ve sobered up since then, but I’m delighted if people are intrigued or amused or excited or even provoked by the way I present myself.
WWD: Tell me about your approach to style and how you incorporate accessories, on the red carpet and off.
H.B.: It usually starts with the socks. I pick a color, and then choose the suit (usually a suit) and everything else from there. I have always adored accessories — pocket squares, cuff links, tiepins, boutonnieres, hats, man bags, purses, head scarves, heels. You name it, I’ve probably been there, even when it was such a bad idea. I have trunks full of ties, drawers full of cuff links, closets piled with hats. You can’t move for accessories in my apartment. You can never have enough. For me, they aren’t the finishing touch, they are the first touch. Everything else is subsidiary.
SPECIALTY RETAILER: CHARMING CHARLIE
Known for its value-priced jewelry, Charming Charlie has capitalized on the fast-fashion trend. With a fleet of more than 200 stores, the nine-year-old brand is expanding its footprint and since 2012 has been in the process of tweaking its brand image.
With souped-up logos, branding and advertising, Charming Charlie has focused on accessories, which account for about 85 percent of its sales, with apparel accounting for the remaining 15 percent.
“The Charming Charlie girl buys her accessories to make a statement and stay on trend,” said ceo Charlie Chanaratsopon, who declined to give sales figures. “She also likes to update an outfit in her closet with new jewelry and accessories from Charming Charlie.”
BUSINESS VISIONARY: DIANE SULLIVAN, BROWN SHOE COMPANY
As president, chairman and chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Co., Diane Sullivan, who first joined the company in 2004, has aggressively repositioned and re-strategized the brand with impressive results, receiving praise from analysts for a strong first quarter in 2013.
The company, which oversees contemporary brands like Vince, Via Spiga and Sam Edelman — as well as a range of “healthy living” and “family” brands such as Dr. Scholl’s, LifeStride, Naturalizer and Famous Footwear — continues to grow through new partnerships and distribution channels. “At Sam Edelman, we are really [pleased] about the partnership with Kellwood Co. to produce women’s, junior’s and girl’s apparel,” Sullivan said.
The Naturalizer brand will also partner with David Bromstad, the artist, interior designer and host of HGTV’s Color Splash and HGTV Star, in a new collaboration for shoes and accessories next spring. “Sometimes you see the big execs and it’s a little intimidating,” said Karen Giberson, the Accessories Council’s president. “But [Diane] is warm and inviting and at the same time…she is as impressive in the boardroom as when she is volunteering.”
RETAIL INNOVATION: WARBY PARKER
Neil Blumenthal, co-ceo and cofounder of eyewear brand Warby Parker, has said that he wanted to launch a company that could democratize the price of glasses. “Our customers, like most people, value quality and want to be treated fairly,” he told WWD. “A licensed pair of blandly designed sunglasses shouldn’t cost as much as an iPhone. We’re able to provide beautiful design with premium materials like custom acetate and Japanese titanium for a fraction of what they’d cost from another brand.”
And it’s working: Warby Parker hit its first year’s sales target within three weeks of launching in February of 2010. The brand’s low price points, stylish products and innovative customer service — they send customers five pairs of frames for five days, free of charge, allowing them to try glasses on at home — have proved to be a hit with shoppers. With five brick-and-mortar locations across New York, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as a touring showroom dubbed Warby Parker Class Trip, the brand seems poised for growth.
“Warby Parker is confidently forging its own path,” said Giberson. “[The brand] leaves people scratching their heads. They’re not a normal optical company.”
HALL OF FAME: IMAN
Iman, the supermodel first discovered in 1973 by Peter Beard while studying in Nairobi, Kenya — is nothing if not enterprising. The founder and ceo of global beauty brand Iman Cosmetics, which she launched in 1994, has become a pioneer in the field of multiethnic beauty, and more recently has taken on an editorial role with the launch of her online magazine, Destination Iman. “From her career as a model to her voice for diversity, it doesn’t take much to look at her career and see what she’s accomplished,” said Giberson.
In 2010, the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded Iman the Fashion Icon Award, a testament to her innate sense of style. Iman told WWD that she learned about fashion on the job as a model and has never used a stylist. “Accessories are the stars in my closet and everything else has a supporting role,” she said. “I think accessories update and upgrade your look season after season. I love bold accessories from cuffs, rings and earrings — they give the ‘wow’ factor to a simple jeans and T-shirt look.”
STYLE AMBASSADOR: STACY KEIBLER
Stacy Keibler, the model, actress and former professional wrestling personality and Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, has struck out on her own as a stylish fixture on the red carpet in recent years.
“She’s got an elegant look and always is extraordinarily well put together,” said Giberson. Keibler was recently shot by Patrick Demarchelier for NFL advertisements, and she authors a wellness, health and beauty site called SKphilosophy. She told WWD that style, for her, has been a learning process.
“Fashion has turned into a real love for me, and I’m continuing to get to know that part of myself and grow and evolve,” she said. “You have to learn what works and doesn’t work for you and how to take something and make it your own. It’s important to maintain an identity when it comes to style.”
INFLUENCER: KATE YOUNG
Celebrity stylist Kate Young, who has worked with the likes of Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Maggie Gyllenhaal, said she has never received an award for her work before.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “Accessories really set the tone for a look; shoes matter almost more than anything else. I think accessories are a place to express your personality, and I love that people of any size can experiment with them.” And she also dabbles in design: Last spring, Young launched a line of semiformal and special occasion dresses in collaboration with Target.
“Somebody like Kate who is kind of a curator for big personalities makes a huge difference in what consumers buy,” said Giberson. “And at the Accessories Council, we know that what celebrities wear counts. For someone who incorporates accessories in an excellent way, we know that Kate’s input does have an impact at the cash register.”
DISTINGUISHED STYLE: OLIVIA PALERMO
The former reality TV star of “The City,” a spin-off of MTV’s “The Hills,” has since become an “It” girl and front-row fashion-show fixture, model (as the face of Rochas’ Les Cascades de Rochas scent last year) and blogger at her namesake lifestyle Web site, oliviapalermo.com.
“With Olivia, you can’t open the weekly magazines without seeing a photo of her and what she’s wearing, how she’s put it together, how she mixes things,” said Giberson. “That’s what ACE is about — it’s about how to recognize those people who are making a difference at the consumer level. She really embodies it.”
DIGITAL INFLUENCER: LEANDRA MEDINE
The Man Repeller fashion blogger with a cult following recently parlayed her experience into a new book, “Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls,” which further established her unique point of view.
Giberson hailed her as the voice of a generation with a pioneering spirit, and said the Digital Influencer category is a new one for the Accessories Council. “I see the category continuing for us for years to come,” said Giberson. “I think [Leandra] is an excellent example. I like that she’s irreverent. She does what she feels good about and doesn’t speak for anybody else. She’s bold and has a strong point of view.”