NEW YORK (Reuters) - Designers at New York Fashion Week are betting on accessories such as belts, boots, jewelry and even a pearl-studded scrunchy to tempt shoppers during the recession.
It is not just that accessories are a more affordable way for consumers to make a fashion statement, some buyers can also be enticed by one-off investment pieces -- as long as they are unique, experts at New York Fashion Week said.
Accessories sales have held up better than clothing in the worst recession in some 70 years and according to market research company NPD Group they are poised to be one of the earliest fashion areas to recover.
Designers are taking note.
Bold belts, necklaces and bracelets featured prominently on New York Fashion Week runways as designers show collections for spring and summer 2010 and one of the most talked about pieces in Marc Jacob's collection was a pearl-studded hair scrunchy.
"Many stores that focused on clothing are opening up to having bigger displays or bigger buys for accessories and shrinking their buys for clothing. You're just seeing a different kind of market right now and I think designers are recognizing that," said Jodie Snyder, whose DANNIJO jewelry partners with designers such as Carlos Campos and Bensoni.
Luxury brand Henri Bendel has stopped selling clothes at its flagship Fifth Avenue boutique to focus on accessories, gifts and beauty products.
Australian designer Anna Coroneo scaled back her collection of dresses this year but is rapidly expanding her accessories offerings. Her key accessory -- silk beads -- has been popular with consumers worldwide and she is now working on a scarf collection based on her own artwork.
"Accessories are really important right now," designer Jill Stuart told Reuters backstage after her runway show, which featured fishnet boots and sparkly belts.
Belts played a key role in a number of collections, coming in a variety of widths and textures including on evening gowns and high-waist swimsuits.
In the first half of 2009 belt sales performed significantly better than other accessories, rising 32 percent compared to a year earlier, according to NPD Group data.
The economy has forced designers to become more attuned to what the consumer is looking for and give them a compelling reason to buy, experts said.
In the past decade "consumers were afraid of missing out on the next big thing. Now that the paradigm has shifted, consumers are king again and they are pushing back. They are much more discerning in their purchases," Ann Watson, a fashion retail consultant, told Reuters as she sat in the audience of Brazilian designer Carlos Miele's show.
Maria Bogomolova, executive director of couture jewelry designer Alex Soldier said the well-heeled were prepared to open their wallets for unique pieces that were seen to be timeless. Alex Soldier's jewelry retails from $995.
"Across the board, it is not the time for basics. Consumers are looking for bold, conversation pieces," said Karen Giberson, head of the not-for-profit Accessories Council. "The good thing is, it's not always the least expensive thing."
Editing by Michelle Nichols