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Jill Stuart Grasps Onto Bags

Jill Stuart has 1,000 bags in her repertoire, but, apparently, that's not enough.

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Jill Stuart and Tim Schifter

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Jill Stuart pre-fall handbags.

Photo By Pasha Antonov

NEW YORK — Jill Stuart has 1,000 bags in her repertoire, but, apparently, that's not enough.

The contemporary designer, who started out doing accessories, is going back to her roots with a handbag line under license with Schifter & Partners.

"I've been researching and collecting bags since I was 14," said Stuart, who has a large accessories business in Japan at 20 freestanding handbag boutiques.

A source close to the firm said Stuart's total business in Japan, which includes ready-to-wear, fragrance and color cosmetics, has revenues of $100 million.

Although her U.S. business is markedly smaller — sales amount to $30 million, according to the same source — the handbag line is expected to generate $10 million to $12 million at retail in its first year in the U.S., according to industry estimates.

Stuart has always incorporated accessories into her rtw line, but the Schifter union will result in the designer's first comprehensive handbag and small leather goods collection to be distributed internationally.

"I've been a great admirer of Jill's work for many years," said Tim Schifter, who formed Schifter & Partners last April with a minority investment from Gwen Stefani, the musician, actress and designer. Schifter collaborated with Stefani on three handbag collections under Stefani's L.A.M.B. label during his tenure at LeSportsac.

The Jill Stuart handbag line is Schifter & Partners' third brand launch since the firm opened. The company rolled out its first handbag brand, Harajuku Lovers, with Stefani last September and the higher-priced L.A.M.B. line, which retails for up to $700, in November. Prices for the Stuart line range from $225 to $550 at retail.

Schifter plans to announce a fourth designer collaboration later in the year.

"Jill has a very loyal following, and although it's new each season, there's a consistency that differentiates her brand from other designers in the market," said Schifter. "We really thought that the sensibility of her collection and her distinct feminine, vintage-inspired vibe would translate marvelously well into accessories."

Stuart is betting that the handbags, which all bear the sans serif Jill Stuart logo at top center, will bring the brand increased recognition, especially with a main floor presence.

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