A woman’s best friend is her handbag. Forget diamonds--we're talking genuine calfskin leather in a classic silhouette--enough to carry the weight of the world (or at least a few outfit changes). After a decade of growth in the luxury industry which has been propelled in large part by high-margin handbags, these brands know this best.
Take the aspirational world of influencers as proof. The most liked photos tend to fall into a particular category- a basic tee, pair of distressed jeans, and designer crossbody of the Gucci, Chanel or Saint Laurent variety. (Let’s not forget a pair of sunnies to deflect the envious glances of followers.) While status bags may require an initially painful outlay of cash,when worn over time, they actually average out to a low cost per wear. This makes them the perfect investment to elevate daily outfits. To your left, folks, is rationalization.
2016 was a mixed bag (pardon the pun) of financial results for the luxe and mid-luxe handbag industry. Key struggles were attributed to uncertainty in the global macroeconomic environment, declining department store traffic, and smaller disruptive brands siphoning off significant chunks of their business.
So how do you revive interest in a brand that is considered to be tired and out-of-touch? While not easy to pull off, one approach is to inject a heritage product line with a fresh (and sometimes even irreverent) aesthetic. Gucci has done it with aplomb and smashing success. E-commerce numbers summarize Gucci’s current fashion domination quite effectively: within the past two weeks alone, 34% of the Gucci handbag assortment on Net-a-Porter has sold out at full price. These top sellers are from the Dionysus line, which has experienced high momentum ever since its introduction by Alessandro Michele during Fall/Winter 2015. With obsession over the bag’s intricate tiger head spur not fading anytime soon, and of-the-moment updates to this range being made for current seasons, undoubtedly the fashion house will be raking in cash for the foreseeable future. Will the bag reach evergreen status? That remains to be seen.
Another brand with a disruptive product strategy is Rebecca Minkoff, who has embraced, with 360 degrees of customer engagement, “see-now, buy-now, wear-now”. The pressure from catching up to the speed of production in fast fashion has made it necessary for designers to close the gap between the runway and the actual point of consumer purchase. And according to StyleSage data, the strategy is showing early signs of traction. Thirteen percent of the brand’s product assortment has sold out on their site, of which 20% sold out at full price. In fact, their Unlined Feeder Bag sold out within 2 days of launch on International Women’s Day 2017.
Retailers also have to be aware of shifts in consumer preferences. A growing trend is towards the downsized and streamlined bag, not just for the usual ‘going out’ purposes, but for daytime usage as well. The growth of mobile technology has made it easier than ever to declutter, and plenty of women are wholeheartedly embracing just enough space for their phone, lip gloss and credit cards. The word here is hands-free.
A cult brand nailing the mini trend is Pop + Suki; their $195 camera bag can be customized with different straps (including a fanny pack), charms, tassels, leather colors, and initials. Customized and priced within reach? Yes, please!
As we near the end of this analysis, we look towards an emerging trend: androgyny. The latest runways blended gender not only in apparel and but also in handbags. Look no further than Chanel, who put Pharrell Williams in a starring role carrying the Gabrielle bag (alongside the likes of Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne, no less). Can androgyny be applied to this traditionally female domain? Why the heck not?
Have bag, will travel.