24 Jan 2018
Metallics Shine Through at Subdued New York Fashion Accessories Show
Optimism was muted at Accessories The Show, one of the first events of the year for New York fashionistas, with some exhibitors concerned the sector may be in long-term decline. Others, though, had a brighter view of the coming season.
Metallic was the trend apparent across a variety of categories at this year's Accessories The Show, one of the first 2018 trade events to feature on the New York fashion calendar. Indeed, this ubiquitously shiny enhancement made its presence felt on many of the handbags and spectacles debuting at the expo, while not relinquishing its high-profile role in the jewellery sector.
Acknowledging its widespread uptake, Juliette Soto, a Senior Account Executive with Moda Luxe, a Los Angeles-based luxury handbag brand, said: "We have a lot of embellished handbags on offer, whether as a feature of the handles or on the main bodies.
"We also have a lot of metallics on our circle bags and canvas range. Clutches and circle bags are particularly in demand this year and we have a range of the latter debuting at this event."
Among the younger, fashion-conscious accessory shoppers, it was oversized metallic spectacles frames that were finding particular favour, at least according to River Moon, the Sales Manager of 2020 Optical, a New York-based eyewear retailer. Outlining the items that were particularly popular, she said: "Big crazy styles are so on trend right now – the crazier the better. Huge metal frames are also big, as is the cat-eyes style."
Over in the jewellery sector, while metallic lustre is nothing new, combining it with a range of different materials has apparently proven to be a real winner for Suzy T Designs, a Florida-based jewellery brand. Highlighting the appeal of this fusion approach, Carole Pingtore, the company's New York Sales Representative, said: "Mixing metals together – gold and silver for instance – is a trend we're certainly capitalising on. Little bugs – tiny bee and butterfly motifs – are also a thing right now and we have that covered too."
Another notable trend – and one to cross over from the wider clothing sector – was the fringe, a hardy perennial of the fashion world and back big style for 2018. One company that had wholeheartedly adopted this particular flourish was World Finds, an Illinois-based ethical jewellery brand.
Acknowledging its popularity, Customer Experience Co-ordinator Anna Labedz said: "Across the board, the fringe is the big trend for us this season. It's the defining feature of our Spring Collection, which – again – is dominated by bright colours as they always do well for us."
Another company benefitting from the use of more robust hues was California's Blue Planet Eyewear. Outlining the pastels that were particularly popular, Sales Director Zach Musarra said: "In terms of coloured lenses, it's the pinks, violets and purples that are really on trend right now. We've also noted that big shapes are coming back, as is the rounder style of spectacle.
"Essentially, this is a very cyclical business. For the past 10 years, it has been pretty much impossible to even give away small round frames. Now, though, they're coming back, just as things always do. Every 12 years or so, the cycle is complete and things start to become popular again. Never bin your old eyewear as, sooner or later, it will be back in style."
While some items and styles were clearly enjoying a renaissance, others seemed more permanently left out in the cold, with scarves, in particular, now apparently surplus to requirements. Clearly concerned at the state of the market, Francesco Penzo, the US Sales Agent for Italca, an Italian manufacturer of luxury scarves, said: "Right now, there is a real problem when it comes to selling scarves. Over the past two to three years, demand has noticeably dropped off. People are just not buying scarves any more.
"Instead, people are asking for ponchos and kimonos as they are so easy to wear, with many people adding them on top of a sweater instead of using a scarf. With our clients' preferences having clearly changed, we are now obliged to follow this particular trend."
While many brands adjust their collections in line with changing tastes, a number of companies pride themselves on maintaining a more stable product line-up, with at least one of this year's exhibitors – Karine Sultan, a Los Angeles-based jewellery brand – clearly falling into this particular category.
Maintaining that the company's philosophy was based more on sound business principles than wilful recalcitrance, Manager Margaux Sultan said: "While we don't really follow trends, we do produce items with real longevity. Some of our styles are more than 30 years old and are still in demand, which is why we keep on selling them.
"Having said that we don't follow trends, we still keep abreast of the market. As we know that pearls are currently selling well, we have added them into our new collection."
Somewhat keener to ostentatiously follow new trends was Urban Expressions, a Californian manufacturer of animal-friendly handbags and luxury vegan accessories. Offering an insight into the world of the latest ethical must-haves, Account Executive Alicia Gerrard said: "Straw is something that's going to be really big and a major part of vacation wear for the spring / summer season.
"At this show, we've also had a lot of interest in our clear plastic handbag collections. They're very eye-catching and very on-trend."
Another brand championing both novel materials and eco-responsibility was Boston's a.Clara, with the company's range of cork handbags surprising many showgoers. Acknowledging the occasionally startled response of bag browsers, Annemarie Childs, the company's Chief Executive, said: "We tend to get a mix of reactions. Some people say: 'Woh, what's that?', then they have to touch it to see if it really is cork. Others, though, even if they are familiar with cork, are surprised by our particular use of it."
While adamant that the look of a fashion product remained of paramount importance to consumers, she conceded that an eco-friendly back-story and cork's intrinsic properties had also proved to be an asset. She said: "It's the appearance that first catches a would-be buyer's attention, with many mistakenly thinking it's a wooden product. Once you begin the conversation, however, they soon become hooked on cork's green credentials.
"One of the great things about cork is that no trees have to die to produce it. A cork tree is just stripped of its bark every nine to 10 years, then carries on growing. As a material, it's both sustainable and environmentally friendly."
Another member of the unusual materials / strong back-story club was the aforementioned World Finds, although the company favours quite different inputs and has its own distinct tale to tell. Summarising the business' founding principles, Labedz said: "First and foremost, we are a Fair Trade company and we work mainly with Indian craftswomen.
"Our primary aim is to help these women get ahead in life by giving them opportunities they would otherwise never have had. Our secondary strand is recycling, with all our range made from repurposed textiles.
"The majority of retail partners are also committed to the Fair Trade concept, so they are always responsive to our ethically-sourced approach. For consumers, though, it's our bright colours that get their attention, with the ethical aspect something of a bonus."
Despite a number of clear success stories – both ethical and purely commercial – the overall mood at the show was somewhat downbeat, with a number of exhibitors describing consumers as "cautious", while a few of the more world-weary maintained the sector was showing all the signs of long-term decline.
Among the less upbeat was Pingtore, with the Suzy T Rep warning: "Customers are definitely warier and business is not what it was. No matter what Trump is claiming, trading is not on the up and we are finding that we have fewer and fewer outlets to sell to".
For Penzo, though, it was the big brand retailers that were the true villains of the piece, with the Sales Agent saying: "It's now all too easy to spend $20 on something from Zara, H&M or Uniqlo and then throw it away after a year. As a result, no one is interested in buying anything of any real lasting quality."
Accessories The Show 2018 took place from 7-9 January at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center in New York.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York