The perils of the handbag revolution which has taken over luxury fashion

From luxury powerhouses with a long standing history in luxury handbags to luxury fashion houses specialized in apparel, the world of luxury fashion has been gradually taken over by the handbags revolution, each competing for the supremacy of the latest ‘it bag’. With no exception, the newly developed  handbags presented luxury brands with the opportunity to expand into the most profitable and fastest growing product segment.

What many younger fashion brands or apparel-focused luxury brands had not realized was that they would enter an uneven competition with other brands which no longer need to develop an it bag as they already have iconic pieces in their history, as an integral part of their heritage, such as HermesBirkin or Gucci‘s Bamboo.

Irrespective of the consumer market, luxury consumers do appreciate craftsmanship but mostly, they value heritage. With social media inundated in the past 9 months by short movies, photo shoots or dedicated websites and social media platforms for a specific handbag, I found Gucci‘s approach most sensible, running an effortless campaign based on photos of celebrities from various generations wearing its iconic Bamboo handbag in unpretentious circumstances: Elisabeth Taylor talking casually to Paul Newman (1958), Ingrid Bergman walking with her nanny downtown Naples (1953), Vanessa Redgrave on set (1966), Lady Diana arriving at her hotel in Rome (1991) – dedicated photo gallery is available on our Facebook page.

Another long term sustainable strategy for creating an ‘it bag’ is the one focused entirely on craftsmanship and innovation. British brand Mulberry and Italian Bottega Veneta have both been enriching manufacturing techniques and, in the case of Bottega Veneta going even further in combining leather with unusual materials – in the new ‘Intracciato line’. Adding pieces made of exotic leathers has also proven successful, especially in the case of this approach, allowing the respective brands to maintain and even upgrade their luxury positioning.

Upgrading the quality of materials has been at the heart of Burberry‘s luxury re-positioning, after years of slipping into a ‘democratic luxury’ wave, which boosted the company’s performance, breaking records of sales. Burberry’s ‘upgraded’ accessories, especially handbags are now at least 30% more expensive but are made using the finest leathers and furs.

Louis Vuitton has been no stranger to the handbag revolution, the main concern of the new approach of the house being the creation of ‘it bags’ with less logo visibility but also to upgrade the quality and diversify leather types, strategy which seems to have worked, media reporting that Vuitton’s new Capucine handbag is already sold out in many flagship stores around the world.

With this new approach, Vuitton took on the opportunity to improve its luxury positioning, especially in large markets such as China, where it had reported significant slowing sales due to what analysts ‘logo fatigue’ but also lifted the pricing on the new handbag models, thus increasing its margins too.

Then there are the silent power-players such as Hermes and Prada, which have both taken an apparent opposite strategy, Hermes focusing on diversifying its existing icon handbags, in terms of color, materials and sizes, while Prada has presented for Spring 2014 a range of handbags closely tied to the fashion collection, the entire range standing out in terms of color and design, some bags even boasting a very visible lettered logo, unusual for Prada’s discreet triangular logo.

Oliver Petcu