Variety is at the heart of the accessories world, and that means a wide array of price points and options. With fluctuating commodity costs, accessories designers have become crafty, creating diffusion lines, mixing materials and launching high-end contemporary collections to meet consumer demand for affordable and fashionable wares.
Facing volatile gold, silver, platinum and diamond prices, brands are incorporating lower-priced gems such as semiprecious stones to keep costs down. But creativity, value and a healthy flow of new inventory still rule the category.
That balance between price and product played out in the 10 most familiar brands, all of which are grappling to get their piece of what The NPD Group estimates is the $51 billion U.S. women’s accessories market.
With its accessibly priced handbags in the $250-to-$450 range, Coach Inc. took the top spot this year. With $4.76 billion in sales, the New York-based brand revamped its offering with the introduction of Legacy, a dual-gender collection that includes apparel, footwear, bags, jewelry, eyewear and other accessories. Inspired by the brand’s storied history, the line not only gave shoppers the chance to buy popular retro styles like its Duffle, it also changed the look of the brand’s stores.
At number two is Gap, which has been in the process of a turnaround. With better marketing, improved product and a more targeted approach to strategic categories, the Gap and its sister brands Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta are focusing on sustaining a solid performance with key collaborations. Recently, Gap teamed with GQ magazine and Banana Republic hired Narciso Rodriguez as an adviser beginning with fall 2013.
Calvin Klein landed in third place for its men’s and women’s accessories, which exude a modern, minimalist aesthetic. Simple square shoulder bags contrast the headier, flashy footwear, which includes embellished gold motifs and metal adornments.
The brand’s work was noticed this year, as the Accessories Council honored Calvin Klein Collection’s design trio, Francisco Costa (women’s), Italo Zucchelli (men’s) and Ulrich Grimm (men’s and women’s shoe and accessories creative director).
In fourth place is Guess Inc., which pairs its denim-centric roots with a dynamic handbag, small leather goods and footwear offering. With 30 years under its belt, Guess said it will continue to push in the accessories category this year, as the company invests more heavily in digital and marketing efforts.
Footwear and accessories brand Nine West ranked fifth. The Jones Group–owned label has invested in its in-store presentation and its collection. This fall, Nine West opened The World According to 9, a boutique featuring theme-driven merchandised walls. The unit also houses the brand’s first handbag line. It also launched its Vintage American Collection, which includes exclusive product from collaborations with Kate Ciepluch, Monica Botkier and Cynthia Dugan.
Liz Claiborne and Tommy Hilfiger tied for the sixth spot. For Claiborne, 2012 was a year of change. Liz Claiborne Inc. changed its name to Fifth & Pacific Cos. after selling its namesake brand to J.C. Penney Co. Inc. The brand’s accessories haul includes no-frills handbags priced in the $25 to $60 range.
Meanwhile, strength in Hilfiger’s European business propelled the brand this year, as consumers in that region snapped up Americana heritage labels. The PVH Corp.–owned brand has made strides, expanding its reach internationally and building its accessories offer, which includes footwear, watches, jewelry, sunglasses and handbags. Men’s and women’s accessories tend to be priced under $250. Bowler bags, knee-high riding boots, belts with tweed accents and simple rose gold–plated watches can all be found on the brand’s Web site.
Ralph Lauren landed in eighth place. Accessories play an instrumental part in the brand’s growth plans. On its second-quarter earnings call in November, president and chief operating officer Roger Farah said, “We think the Ralph Lauren aesthetic translates beautifully into accessories. One of the interesting realities of our results to date, both the extraordinary margin in wholesale and the extraordinary margin we now operate in retail, is without high penetration to accessories, which, properly executed, brings with it higher profit margins….My guess is over the long term, it’s going to be a very big part of what we do.”
The brand has made a point to showcase its accessories collection during New York Fashion Week to editors and shoppers alike. Besides a separate preview for editors, the firm recently gave its Instagram followers the first look at its spring 2013 collection.
The Ugg phenomenon continues. The brand, which is synonymous with slip-on sheepskin boots, ranks ninth on the list. In addition to its stronghold on the sheepskin-boot market, the Deckers Corp.–owned brand has extended its reach into men’s and also recently launched a dual-gender, higher-priced, more fashion-forward line called Ugg Collection. Using exotic skins such as stingray and ostrich, the brand has added luxe bags, a variety of sandals, shoes and boots that nod to its heritage.
Fossil, the maker of watches, handbags and accessories, rounds out the list. It has elevated its collections—and brand awareness—with key collaborations, acquisitions and updated designs. This year, it acquired watch brand Skagen, introduced a higher-end heirloom leather collection that recalls the vintage leather in its handbags, and it also struck up a partnership with Karl Lagerfeld for limited-edition watches that will hit stores early next year. The company reeled in sales of $2.57 billion for the year ended Feb. 14, a 26.4 percent jump in sales over the prior year.
The Top 10
3. Calvin Klein
5. Nine West
6. Liz Claiborne (tie)
6. Tommy Hilfiger (tie)
8. Ralph Lauren