The appeal of living large hasn’t disappeared but it seems the logos associated with lavish lifestyles have. When it comes to statement accessories, brands as diverse as Victoria Beckham and Céline are whispering their exclusivity amid a growing consensus that “anonymity” is the key to being recognised.
Flip through the Barneys New York autumn handbag catalogue and it’s clear that the less-is-more approach has permeated the luxury accessories market – a move that Daniella Vitale, the store’s executive vice president, says is intrinsic to the Barneys DNA. “Historically, our clients have always responded to a more subtle, beautifully crafted product,” she says. “[It’s about] expression through details, exquisite materials and things that are not so identifiable.”
Designer L’Wren Scott is known for an understated ethos. “While elegance is a big part of the brand, it’s a return to a well-made product that’s focused and reliable,” she says of her new Lula bags, named after her mother, whose comfort factor she likens to “an old friend you can go out to dinner with again and again because you love them”. Apart from the logo stamped inside, where each bag is numbered, there’s no marking. “I am not a believer in big logos,” says Scott.
In a world devoid of logos the product itself accentuates personality. During the downturn, high-end brand Hermès known for timeless bags rather than a new, trinket-laden style every season – has thrived. It posted an increase of 50 per cent in its first half profits this year and is looking to hire 400 staff to boost production.
This autumn Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the twin actresses who have turned to fashion, launched handbags combining luxury materials and simple, unfussy shapes. “Customers are judging product based on actual, versus perceived, value; for us, this has always been paramount,” they say. Demand is clearly there – a $34,000 backpack has already sold out.
Others in the industry see this stealthy expression of luxury growing. Fung Brands, a Hong Kong-based investment firm headed by Jean-Marc Loubier, a former senior executive at LVMH, this summer acquired 80 per cent of Belgian luxury accessories brand Delvaux, the world’s oldest leather goods house. It aims to take the sleeper label global by updating products and banking on consumers’ appreciation of history and knowhow. Loubier says: “We don’t have the status or the size but we have the genes. We don’t have a logo but we have an identity.” The brand’s sales have risen significantly in the past year, he continues.
Emanuele Carminati Molina, president of the Italian luxury leather goods company Valextra, says the rich have “found satisfaction in rediscovering private luxury”. While other brands realigned their strategies to meet the demands of the global downturn, Valextra – whose new Isis collection is recognised by its contours and finishes (and a clasp closure inspired by ancient Egyptian silhouettes) – has seen an increase in its brand value. In the past two years revenues have increased by more than 100 per cent in cities such as Milan, Tokyo and New York, while in the rest of Europe, the US and Asia the brand has opened 14 new points of sale.
Diego Della Valle, president and chief executive of Italian leather goods group Tod’s, has never been one for the bold logo. The bags in Tod’s new Signature collection are identifiable by an imprinted pattern inspired by the moccasin’s 133 rubber nubs. Della Valle is confident that “strong, recognisable product will help fuel growth – especially in emerging markets – without betraying the brand’s reputation for quality”. Similarly, Chanel’s new “Boy” collection doesn’t have the signature quilting or double-C logo.
Designer Tomas Maier has always steered clear of in-your-face designs. “When I joined Bottega Veneta, I immediately eliminated everything that distracted from our focus on the product,” he says, admitting that it was a drastic course of action but the right one. “Bottega Veneta’s strengths have nothing to do with short-lived trends.”
Ed Burstell, managing director at Liberty of London, credits the uncertain economy for the shift towards understatement. “If budgets are tighter, there is much greater value put on bags that will stand the test of time,” he says.
Abigail Rainer, Harrods’ director of accessories and fine jewellery, says demand for Céline, Tod’s, Victoria Beckham and Nancy Gonzalez reflect “simplified embellishment with a focus on fit and finish”.
Of course, logoless bags still tap into a desire for admiration, albeit from informed insiders. In Hong Kong, where logomania survived for decades, retailer Lane Crawford’s fashion director Sarah Rutson says “discrete bags are, even without an obvious logo, as identifiable and iconic in presence”, noting how brands such as Céline limit purchases – partly reflecting demand but also to protect exclusivity.
“When a woman gets these hard-to-come-by pieces, they are met with gasps of admiration and envy. Who needs a logo with that [kind of] recognition,” she says.