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NEW YORK — They’re facing a challenging road ahead, but accessories vendors are bracing themselves for the journey with improvements in quality, better value-price ratios and more looks with longevity.

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

During the market earlier this month, many firms launched their fall assortments to major department and specialty stores, which typically write the lion’s share of orders for the fall season that week.

“Spring is starting to sell through and buyers are coming in with a positive attitude, looking to buy,” said Doreen Salerno, brand director at Adrienne Vittadini, which has been expanding its accessories assortment. “But the perceived value needs to be there. The consumer is addressing a lot of issues, from unemployment to war…but she wants to spend money on something she can feel great about.”

For fall, Adrienne Vittadini honed in on orange and olive green colors with more structured hobo shapes, resin handles, hardware and touches of embroidery. The company also added evening bags to the collection, including metallic alligator-like embossed leather and top-handle bags with jewel-like hardware. Wholesale prices range from $74 to $84.

Michelle Hatch, designer at Monsac, said: “Because the dollar isn’t as strong as it had been against the euro, we have to find ways of keeping materials interesting while maintaining price points…such as metallics, embossings and laser processes.”

Last week, for example, the dollar was worth 0.93 euros.

“Novelty in the form of overembellishment is really disappearing and being replaced by more interesting leathers and surface treatments,” said Roy Kean, owner of handbag showroom Accessories That Matter.

Key fall trends include:

Embossed croc-like leather and metallics.

Structured hobos and knitting bags.

Tapestry and discreet embroidery.

Resin hardware and woven or embroidered straps.

Charms and leather cords.

Orange and olive or moss green.

“The revival of the Sixties is inspiring the metallic trend,” said Robert Rokoff, creative director at handbag firm Maxx New York. “Consumers will be looking to go to their department or better specialty stores to find something new of good quality but that’s fashionable.”

“For fall, stores are looking for things that are happy,” said Karen Ericksen, co-owner of Showroom Seven. “People want to have something uplifting. Anything dreary in terms of color is not selling.”

A slew of new or relaunched players entered the scene during market. Denim brand Bonjour launched its bags in a license with Wathne Ltd., which also manufactures handbags and small leather goods for Ralph Lauren. Bonjour’s collection features reversible nylon bags, weekenders, yoga bags and styles in nylon, denim, velvet and corduroy with a ruffled edge.

Many pieces feature the company’s signature orange color in topstitching or linings. Retail prices range from $30 to $65, with distribution aimed at department and specialty stores. First-year projections are $8 million to $10 million, according to Carmine Porcelli, Bonjour’s managing director.

Nautica Enterprises is furthering its reach into the women’s arena with the launch of its new handbag collection. Also produced under license by Wathne, the first collection includes a comprehensive range of products with styles in materials such as denim, nylon and embossed suede.

Most of the bags are made in cloth fabrics, not in leather, although some have leather reinforcements. There is a variety of sizes, including wristlets, oversized totes, medium-size handbags and messenger bags, and some come with another smaller bag on the inside that can be separated and worn alone. Most of the collection has a sporty feel that seems designed for moms on the soccer field and the beach, although some styles are for the office, as well.

David Chu, Nautica’s vice chairman and chief creative officer, is working closely with the licensee to develop the handbag collection.

“I am designing for a woman’s lifestyle needs,” Chu said. “There are a lot of functional details and many of the bags are versatile and can be used for a variety of occasions.”

With retail prices of $30 to $200, Wathne expects the collection to generate wholesale sales of $3.5 million in the first season, according to a company spokeswoman. Distribution will be targeted to Nautica’s existing distribution network, which includes department and specialty stores, and products will make their debut at retail this June for fall selling. In 2004, Wathne plans to introduce Nautica belts and start distributing the handbags internationally, the spokeswoman said.”We feel there is a huge opportunity in women’s,” said Chu.

Kenneth Jay Lane relaunched a collection of handbags in a new licensing pact with Essential Accessories, a New York-based manufacturer.

The Italian-made line of 100 styles draws from his fashion jewelry and heavily features jewel elements, from his signature resin snake to panther adornments, for little structured bags in croc-like leather and paw-print metallics, pinstripe suede and red and black satin. The line wholesales from $75 to $175, and distribution is aimed at higher-end specialty and department stores.

Sales projections are about $2 million, said Nathalie Martin Schettini, owner of the Martin Schettini jewelry line and a sales consultant for the line.

Mallorca, Spain-based Dominique Guinabert presented a line of costume jewelry featuring bold Swarovski crystals strung together in clusters and mixed with colored Spanish pearls for rings, bracelets and earrings. Wholesale price points range from $29 for bracelets and rings to $165 for a heavy necklace. Donna Waxman, U.S. agent, said the line targets specialty stores, with first-year sales projections of $250,000.

Another newcomer was Majique, a jewelry brand from London being distributed in the U.S. by Habitat, the New York-based costume jewelry and accessories company.

The contemporary collection includes some semiprecious stones, as well as plenty of beads and wood. Among its top styles are chandelier earrings, necklaces and cross pendants, mostly in silver, although some is gold plated. Wholesale prices range from about $2.50 to $16.

Marc Schwartz, president of Habitat, which primarily makes private label jewelry, expects first-year volume for the line to hit between $1.5 million and $2 million, targeting department and specialty stores. In England, Majique is sold in department stores such as Harrods and Selfridge’s, as well as some chains, including Top Shop and River Island.

Costume jewelry firm Miriam Haskell relocated its showroom and corporate offices to 390 Fifth Avenue from 49 West 37th Street. The 16,000-square-foot space includes a showroom, design studio and corporate offices. The building was designed by architect Stanford White, whose work includes Madison Square Garden.

The company celebrated its new home with a party during market week attended by a number of buyers and press, as well as Denise Seegel and Andy Hilfiger, president and co-owner respectively of Sweetface Fashion Co., the holding company for the JLo clothing line and accessories.

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