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The Rise of Accessory Designers

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Why do the creative directors of leading luxury fashion brands like Gucci, Valentino and Marc by Marc Jacobs all have a background in accessories design?

Extract from an article from BF -LONDON, United Kingdom — Read more here

Frida Giannini of Gucci, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Katie Hillier of Marc by Marc Jacobs and Stuart Vevers, formerly of Mulberry and Loewe, and, now, at Coach.

Four creative directors with wildly divergent aesthetics — 
and yet they share one key characteristic: before becoming creative directors at some of the industry's top brands, they built their careers as accessory designers.

Before being appointed creative director, Giannini was Gucci's head of women's accessories and, previously, its design director of handbags, having joined the company from Fendi, where she was designer of leather goods. Likewise, Chiuri and Piccioli worked in Valentino's accessories department for over a decade, before replacing Alessandra Facchinetti as co-creative directors in 2008. [...] But why did parent company Kering give an accessories designer creative control over all the product lines at Gucci, its most profitable brand? [...]

Growth Drivers
The rising importance of accessories as a highly lucrative revenue stream has a lot to do with it. 
“I was very lucky to be involved in the accessories side of the business when it blew up,” Hillier told BoF. “There have been many, many more opportunities open to me because I was doing accessories and it was given so much weight within the business. I am not sure that I would have gained that amount of knowledge being in ready-to-wear design."

Being involved in the accessories business, you learn about all this other stuff — how brand building works, how the industry is growing. I think that with most companies now, you will find that their main revenue [driver] is accessories. So putting somebody in charge that has a very good understanding of how that works is shrewd."

“As leather goods have become the driving force of the actual business of the fashion industry, having a thorough understanding of this has been crucial to the work I've done as a creative director,” echoed Vevers.

Indeed, in recent years, “accessories and, in particular, leather accessories, have grown faster than the broader luxury markets,” said Luca Solca, a luxury analyst at Exane BNP Paribas in London. [...] Leather and handbags, in particular, has been the rising star, moving from 18 percent of the personal luxury goods market to 27 percent. Conversely, two categories have contracted: fashion from 29 percent to 26 percent and fragrances and cosmetics from 26 percent to 20 percent.

We calculate that in-season, full-price sell-through is 50 percent for ready-to-wear and 90 percent for leather and hard luxury.”

“The obvious answer to the question would be: you make more cash with accessories,” Laudomia Pucci, image director of Emilio Pucci, told BoF. “However, [more cash] isn’t really the right answer — the right answer is a little bit trickier," Pucci explained.

Expansion is what is important nowadays. 

Today, when you are talking of expanding your own retail network — in South East Asia, Japan, South America, the Middle East, Russia — you are talking, first and foremost, to many different kinds of cultures, different kinds of women, different users. And, today, with many women, especially in those markets, the first thing you notice is their shoes, handbag or sunglasses.” Indeed, not only are accessories a major growth opportunity in less mature markets but in countries with distinct cultural dress codes, like the Gulf States or India, for example, accessories are easily and universally acceptable.

What’s more, fashion apparel and accessories is the fastest growing e-commerce category in the US and the second largest after consumer electronics. 

— and it's worth remembering that accessories are far easier to sell online than clothes. “With accessories, you are not talking of sizes anymore, unless you are talking about shoes and that is another matter — it is much easier to sell a bag online than ready-to-wear,” said Pucci.

Distilling Brand DNA

But the importance of the accessories market is only one part of the reason why so many of fashion's top creative directors have accessories backgrounds. Accessories designers also often have the best grasp of how to take the DNA of a brand, distill it down to its core elements and translate that into this down into product.

Giannini’s luxed up Gucci bags, with their embossed leather logos and pyramidal shapes strike the perfect balance of Italian bravado and elegant craftsmanship that is at the core of the brand, while Chiuri and Piccioli's use of clean lines and dainty studs immediately conjures up the new Valentino's blend of restraint and strength.

[Branding has] been part of the heritage of leather goods, as a hallmark of quality, whether a bag is branded with a logo or the shape itself becomes recognisable enough to be a brand signature," said Vevers. "Branding has generally tended to be more important in accessories." [...]

In fact, knowing how to express a differentiated brand DNA within the constraints of a bag design is a complex challenge — and one that is increasingly relevant across product categories as competition mounts.

“There aren’t that many handbag shapes that you can actually do," said Hillier. "There is a clutch, there’s a duffle, a satchel, a hobo and there is a tote bag. But how it is crafted, how it is finished on the inside, is really complicated, and sometimes stifling, but then that is the challenge." [...]

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Wandering Star

She walks the earth freely, yet her feet never touch the ground. 
Many hands will reach for her, but she cannot be anchored. 
She belongs to no one, to nothing, to nowhere. 
When you meet her, you will recognise her for who she is 
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She will fit in your arms like she was made to be there. 
And she will show you what it means to hold something
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- Lang Leav 

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Counterfeiting? No, Thanks

By Uché @ luxe-mag

If you take a walk along the cobblestone narrow streets of the fashionable Xintindi district of Shanghai, you’re most likely to come across a crowd of immaculately dressed Chinese city dwellers mixing effortlessly with foreigners from countries as wide ranging as Australia, the US, India and Belgium. Perched on the terrace cafés and open bars; and strolling along the chic designer boutiques, you are also most likely to run into some local celebrities who make habitual stops at Xintindi for the well-known ritual of “seeing and being seen”.

As much as their origins and cultures differ, this stylish crowd share one thing in common – a love designer fashion. 

You see, in this trendy neighbourhood, Chanel handbags, Gucci shoes, Dior sunglasses, Louis Vuitton wallets and Rolex watches are as common as baguette is in France. An iPhone is a ticket of acceptance and a luxury car like a BMW 5 series completes the validation of belonging to this urban luxury club.

In this world where logos and brand symbols constitute a natural language of expression, one thing may not be apparent to the common onlooker – most of the branded products being paraded by the young beauties are fake. 
Yes, even the iPhones! 

How, you may wonder, is it possible that a group of well-educated, upwardly mobile and exposed group of youthful world citizens could possibly possess fake luxury products?

In this world, it is not only okay to buy fake products but it’s perfectly fine to advertise them in public. 

Well, the answer is simple – this is the attitude of the current carefree counterfeiting generation. In this world, it is not only okay to buy fake products but it’s perfectly fine to advertise them in public and oh, it is also quite normal to involve people in a game of guessing which of the pieces one is wearing is real or fake.

Appalling? Yes. Disturbing? Well, not to a new generation of luxury consumers who don’t seem to give much thought to the possible harm caused by buying, using or ignoring fake luxury items; or those that don’t bother giving any attention to the menace of counterfeiting to their societies and economies.

Before you start wondering why I seem to be pointing fingers at China only, let me just state that the problem of fake luxury products is a worldwide issue. 

It is neither region-specific nor age-group specific. It cuts across countries, cultures, social groups and wealth structures; and has as much sociological impact as it has economic consequences.

But why should anyone care?

For several reasons, starting from the fact that the problem of counterfeiting affects the average person, whether we know it or not or whether we choose to accept it or not.  But first, a quick look at what I really mean by fake luxury products or counterfeit products. In my opinion, there are four levels of the luxury faking business, as I first highlighted in my book Luxury Fashion Branding, published in 2007.

The first group is the counterfeit products, which are one hundred per cent copies of original products, made to deceive consumers into believing that they are the genuine products. (...)  

The second group is the pirated products, which are copies of genuine items but produced with the knowledge that the consumer will be aware that they are fake. (...)

The third group are imitation products, which are not one hundred percent identical to the original products but are similar in substance, name, design, form, meaning or intent and consumers are often aware that they are not the original products. (...)

The final group are custom-made copies, which are replicas of a trademark design of branded products made by legitimate craftsmen who may or may not have some connection with the brand.

So which of these am I discussing here? Well, all of the above, as the activities that make their collective presence viable are inter-linked. Counterfeiting in general covers any kind of infringement of intellectual property rights and touches on the market economy beyond luxury and fashion. (...)

The latter group, however, seems to be taken more seriously than clothing, leather goods, watches and other luxury items. Why? Well, some argue that as long as nobody dies, we can all live with this practice.

And this brings me back to the consumer of counterfeit products for a moment and the question of whether they are at the root of the problem. It is often said that the demand for counterfeit luxury items directly affects the supply. The parties that defend this idea blame consumers for wanting fake items and believe that the suppliers are only responding to a natural economic law. But is this actually the case?

Let’s take China as a case. This country which is responsible for the production of approximately 85% of counterfeit luxury items (...), is also fast becoming the principal market for authentic luxury items.

Italy, which is a traditional origin of authentic luxury, is also the number one supplier of counterfeit luxury items in Europe with an annual business exceeding $7.5 million.

But when we look at the numbers of this trade in the US, which is the largest consumer of fake luxury items, (...) we wonder if the consumer is solely responsible for this $600 billion annual business of selling illegitimate consumer goods, including luxury items. However judging purely from the lax attitude of “if it doesn’t kill, then it’s fine”, that consumers in this region have, one may be inclined to agree.

But there is the other side of the same coin, which is the supply side.  Are the manufacturers and suppliers of counterfeit luxury items responsible for the existence and growth of this practice and if so, can it be justified?  Is it enough to point fingers at China, Turkey, Thailand or Morocco which are the provenance of these goods?  

Is it okay to justify their presence by sympathising with the poor people that work in the production sites who may otherwise not have any other source of livelihood?

Or is it fine to say that the producers of fake luxury items are actually doing the brands a favour by indirectly enhancing their visibility, as I’ve heard time and again?  Or perhaps even secretly think that the luxury brands in question who highly profitable, dont deserve any empathy.

Before you take sides, I’ll like to bring your attention to the fact that approximately 5%-7% of the world trade is in counterfeit goods and the global trade for counterfeit products is a $600 billion annual business.
This practice costs the US government between $200 billion and $250 billion annually, and American companies have suffered $9 billion in trade losses due to international copyright piracy. 

If you still think that this doesn’t directly affect you, then perhaps understanding that this practice is directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs will do the trick.

(...)  Now that I might have your attention, it will be worth it to consider that the global luxury industry loses $250 billion annually to counterfeit goods, $9.2 billion of which is directly linked to the global fashion industry. When we factor in the potentially lost jobs and business opportunities, in addition to the economic impact then it starts to get heavier.

In France where the luxury industry is the fourth largest employment sector, the impact is even stronger. Recent statistics indicate that approximately 38,000 jobs are lost annually in France due to the problem of luxury counterfeiting. This practice costs the French economy $7.8 billion annually. In the U.K., the annual reduction in GDP as a result of counterfeiting is estimated to be the equivalent of $1.2 billion. In the current economic upheaval that we live in, this sum could go a long way if it was contributed to the economy.
(...) But what is more disturbing is that by 2015, counterfeiting could cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion.

But why does it seem that this practice is growing and why does it appear like not enough is being done to combat it? Well for starters there is the problem of varying legislation and standards related to intellectual property.

Although the purpose of the recent Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was put in place in November 2010, is to establish international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement, the reality remains that this independent governing body may not be able to overcome the somewhat fragmented and inconsistent laws of its participating countries. (...)

When we come down to specific sectors like luxury and fashion, the story changes as much as the laws and general disposition to their enforcement.  Let’s take France as a model. The French luxury sector has succeeded in lobbying for legislation against not only trading in counterfeits but also in using and possessing them.

Translation: if you’re found with a fake luxury product, you risk going to jail for up to 3 years and the law doesn’t care if you received it as a birthday present from your best friend living in Turkey.  

In the U.K., Italy, Germany, Spain and other EU countries, the law is not yet at this level of support for the industry.  This is perhaps why the luxury sector needs to congregate to fight counterfeiting through collective efforts. (...) 

To read more about this problem, please consult the following references also used to research this article  Here

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