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"With a dress, you don't see the Jill Stuart name," Stuart said. "The branding and the logo on the bags are very important."
Stuart has some other main floor offerings, but the handbag collection is sure to boost her presence. The designer's other categories include a fragrance and color cosmetics line with Kose Corp. that is in limited distribution, eyewear under license with Eyewear Design and footwear and costume jewelry. She also has a six-month-old men's wear line and is preparing to launch Jill, a lower-priced women's clothing collection, this year.
The contemporary handbag market has seen some growth in recent years with the advent of niche companies like Kooba, Isabella Fiore and Botkier commanding main floor shelf space in specialty and department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Macy's. Design firms Cynthia Rowley, Theory, Elie Tahari and Marc by Marc Jacobs have budding bag businesses, and then there are the behemoth Coach and such large firms as Dooney & Bourke. But there is room for more brands in the market, according to Rosemary Fraser, buyer of bridge and designer handbags for Macy's West.
"[Stuart's line] fills a unique niche, as the style offerings are fresh, because it's a mix of vintage and modern," she said. "It's a good niche to go into because there isn't a lot of competition."
"Jill Stuart handbags are for the fashion-forward consumer," said Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson in Los Angeles. "It will be great because it will complement the shoes and clothing line that we already carry."
The inaugural collection for pre-fall is divided into two groups, the Leather Collection and the Vintage Collection. The Leather Collection comprises 10 silhouettes ranging from slouchy soft cowhide leather hobos with custom hardware in antiqued nickel to fold-over clutches done in hues Stuart herself named: mascara, sweet cream, espresso and slate.
The Vintage Collection shows Stuart's love of objects of yesteryear in Forties-inspired leather satchels updated with ruching in waxed lambskin and a Sixties-look patent leather clutch with polished circular buckles. Bags from this collection come in bright colors and have a gold Stuart logo centrally placed. There are also cosmetic bags and small leather goods.