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Fashion Accessories Are Part of the ‘In’ Crowd

Sales growth is in the bag, according to several catalogers who recently mailed new titles built exclusively around handbags, belts, scarves, jewelry and other fashion accessories. At the same time, other DMers are experiencing a spike in accessories sales and/or dedicating more space to the category.

Fashion accessories are the object of all this attention for a simple reason. Accessories is the fastest-growing segment of the women's apparel category, with sales gaining 10 percent in 2004 compared with 2003, according to The NPD Group. Overall, sales for women's apparel totaled $95 billion in 2004, up from $90 billion the previous year.

One multichannel marketer throwing its hat into the accessories ring is Urban Outfitters Inc., Philadelphia, which recently tested a new Anthropologie accessories catalog. Initial results appear “very promising,” the company said during a conference call to discuss its fourth-quarter and year-end results for fiscal 2005. According to Women's Wear Daily, Urban Outfitters will mail a second Anthropologie accessories catalog in the fall.

Anthropologie targets women aged 30-45 with an eclectic mix of casual apparel and accessories, home furnishings and gifts.

Less-frilly Lands' End, owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co., Hoffman Estates, IL, takes a more fashion-oriented approach in its Spring Preview 2005 catalog with four pages of brightly hued silk scarves, tumbled leather handbags, belts and wallets as well as nylon accessories in a wide range of colors. Another two pages of the catalog are dedicated to strappy high-heeled sandals, mules and pumps. Prices range from $18 to $78.

Even established accessories brands are seeing a boost from the trend. Coach Inc., New York, which has a catalog and Web site, coach.com, reported in January that net sales increased 31 percent for the six months ended Jan. 1, totaling $876 million.

The demand for accessories has reached the Internet as well, where jewelry and watches are the fastest-growing category, according to comScore Networks. Online sales of jewelry and watches totaled $1.3 billion last year, up 56 percent from the previous year.

It isn't just that fashion accessories are hot right now. Direct-to-consumer channels are a good method for selling this category, said David Hochberg, vice president of public affairs at Lillian Vernon Corp., White Plains, NY.

“On a catalog or Web site, you can properly prop a product and show it in use,” Hochberg said. A handbag photographed in a beautiful location on an attractive model is more appealing than a heap of purses lying on a table or hanging from a rack in a store, he said.

Another reason accessories make a good fit for catalogs and the Internet is that “there is no size issue,” he said. “There is no worry about if it is going to fit properly and having to return it.”

Last month, Lillian Vernon mailed the premiere issue of Personal Style, a catalog featuring 274 handbags, umbrellas, cosmetics cases and jewelry. Most items were exclusive and could be personalized.

“The fastest-growing products today [at Lillian Vernon] are accessories and bags,” Jonathan Shapiro, president of Lillian Vernon Corp., said last month at the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association's annual “Meet the Presidents” luncheon in Rye, NY.

One factor driving the popularity of accessories is that it's simpler and less expensive to make a fashion statement with a new handbag or scarf than by buying a whole new outfit, Hochberg said.

“Accessories are an easy way for women to update and change their wardrobe each season,” he said.

A few of today's biggest fashion trends also reinforce the demand for accessories, said Kassie Rempel, who last year launched SimplySoles, a catalog of hard-to-find designer shoes.

“Everybody is wearing jeans,” so they're looking to “add more color or personality to their outfit with accessories,” Rempel said.

Also, trendy colors such as green and orange lend themselves more readily to a handbag or pair of shoes than they do to a whole outfit, she said.

The second issue of SimplySoles mailed in February to 60,000 names, double the circulation of its premiere issue. The 36-page book featured just one pair on many of its pages to make the images large enough for recipients to see the fine details on the shoes. The catalog's selection of designers includes Bettye Muller, Delman, Taryn Rose, Christian Lacroix and Marc Jacobs. The shoes range in price from $65 to $420.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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