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Growing Mulberry: Net Climbs for 'Insider' Brand

Mulberry, the British accessories and ready-to-wear brand, saw profits blossom to $3.6 million for the year, propelled by sales of leather bags.

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Mulberry has been clever at positioning itself in the U.S. as an "insider's brand," and trading on its discreet charms, Burke said. The bags have no logos, they are vegetable dyed (an unusual way to treat leather) and are decidedly not precious.

Indeed, the bags are meant to become increasingly slouchy with wear. The leathers are heavily drummed, which gives them a worn finish with a vintage feel. Mulberry even gives customers a tube of cream to rub into the bags to nourish the battered leathers.

"Mulberry is for customers who want the most important bags of the season — and who take pride in staying under the radar," Burke said.

The best-selling bags — Bayswater, Roxanne and Blenheim — were designed by Nicholas Knightly, who left the company earlier this year. He has been replaced as design director by Stuart Vevers, whose first collection bows for spring.

Montague said the change — while unexpected — has been a positive one: "Nicholas' departure was unplanned, and initially felt disruptive. But that's been replaced by the joy of Stuart's joining. He's giving his energy to every single part of the collection."

Vevers, who has designed accessories for companies including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Bottega Veneta, is working on tweaking the bestsellers for spring. "We're doing some really exciting versions of our classics: A vintage python Roxanne bag, a tassel Bayswate, and fun, decorative stitching and hand-painted designs on the Roxanne. There's also a new size of the Roxanne called Rosie," he said.

As for rtw, which accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of Mulberry's business, Vevers is taking his cue from the bags. "I would like the clothing to fit very closely with the bags, which have a very English point of view. The collections are very 'day,' just like the bags, and we are introducing a bohemian and eclectic feel, again taken from the artisanal techniques used for the bags," he added.

Craftsmen in Mulberry's Somerset factory hand-drum the leathers and hand-stitch the trim of all the bags. The whipstitch they use for many of the bags is traditionally employed for horses' bridles. Vevers is in constant contact with the artisans via a videophone link between the company's West London design studio and the factory floor.
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