NEW YORK — The so-called “status” handbag business is getting a facelift. Fashion-forward bags are no longer limited to the low-cost trend sections of stores, but have moved onto selling floor space that was previously the exclusive domain of the luxury classic lines.

Hot collections like those from Toohey Dodge, Carrie Forbes and Jill Stuart have been gaining ground with consumers who are willing to pay top dollar for the latest silhouettes and fabrications.

Faced with the possibility of losing counter space to other, more forward companies; many prestige makers have gotten into the act by adding fresher, more modern styles to their assortments. The objective is to strike a balance between satisfying an established roster of traditional customers and attracting a younger, more fashion-conscious clientele that demands constant newness.

Salvatore Ferragamo, long known for its classic collection of fine leathergoods, has practically doubled its array of fashion styles for fall based on the success of this spring’s styles.

Massimo Ferragamo, president of Ferragamo North America, said “Our fall 1994 accessories market hasn’t closed yet, and we’re already running 45 percent ahead of last fall.”

Ferragamo’s fall line includes a series of bags featuring multiple outside pockets and a patchwork group — inspired by a Thirties Ferragamo shoe design — that mixes nappa kidskin with suede in tonal combinations like bordeaux with plum or charcoal with black.

In terms of silhouette, smaller, softly structured shapes and slings and backpacks will be most important, according to Ferragamo.

Another important aspect of the company’s fall look is in the area of extra functions. Many bags will include added inside pockets, key rings and eyeglass holders.

Victor Lipko, president and chief operating officer at Paloma Picasso, said that his firm has also created a variety of looks that will attract a new customer to Paloma Picasso, as well as provide the established customer with new alternatives.

“Now the woman who buys Paloma’s dressier, day and evening bags has something suitable for sportswear and casual clothing as well,” Lipko said.

By Paloma — the firm’s lower-priced line that carries the signature “X” — now offers silver hardware and steel zippers in addition to gold, in fun colors like cranberry, black or chocolate leather or suede.

Other new fashion looks for fall include a group of textured suede bags with flat leather trim, a new line in nylon and additional backpack styles and slings, all “highly functional as well as fashionable,” Lipko added.

The company’s couture collection has also spruced up it fashion offerings, Lipko noted, and includes styles in microfiber matte nylon with gold hardware, and black velvet day-into-evening bags with amber-colored plastic handles.

“Like many companies in all categories of accessories, we’ve been watching what the consumer is buying now and have found that she’ll part with her dollars faster when a bag is unique,” said Marie Mamone, product manager for accessories and shoes at Bally of Switzerland.

Mamone added that, while the firm continues with many of the classic looks it is known for, adding novel silhouettes has met customer demands in recent seasons for a more stylized look.

The latest fashion offerings include Haverstram, a series with unusual lock-closures, and Adagio and Medici, which mix nappa leather and suede in woven or patchwork looks.

In addition to shape, Mamone said that color is also driving business now, with shades like hunter green and eggplant leading the way for fall.

This month, Bally will introduce new signature hardware trimmings and add belts to its accessories roster. Mamone added that, in the future, there will also be a lot more continuity and coordination between handbags, shoes and all accessories.

Lana Marks, designer and owner of Lana of London, a Palm Beach, Fla., based accessories firm, believes “Today’s customer is just as interested in function and practicality as she is in fashion.”

Some of her collection’s new silhouettes feature front pockets and even the models with top handles include detachable shoulder straps. Many of the styles are offered in two or three sizes and in the wide variety of exotic skins that are a trademark of the line.

Marks’s has also introduced a group of leather-trimmed, linen styles suitable for year-round use.

For fall, she thinks “softly feminine” top-handle bags with less structure and softer, rounded corners will be important, especially in colors like navy, cognac and wine.

Even Coach has entered the fashion fray. For fall, the company has introduced a series of eight styles in natural grain and nubuck leather, geared to attract a more relaxed yet sophisticated customer, according to senior designer Kathy Formey.

“We view this as a progression,” Formey said. “We’re expanding to target a new, more stylish, and perhaps even younger consumer in addition to our long-standing classic customer.” The new groups, called Sonoma and Madison, are priced about 10 percent higher than the classic line and feature saddle stitching and minimal hardware.

Formey added that the larger, slouchy nature of these groups become “like a favorite pair of jeans” after being used for a while and are perfect for everyday use.

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