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Style and Tech Fusion Proves Defining Trend for 2015 Accessories

After years of flirtation, 2015 is seen as the time when stylish high-tech accessories finally become a reality, although traditional sectors – notably hats, tote bags, scarves and jewellery – have all retained their own distinctive cachet.

Photo: Ever-popular owl purses from Darling’s Trading.
Ever-popular owl purses from Darling's Trading.
Photo: Ever-popular owl purses from Darling’s Trading.
Ever-popular owl purses from Darling's Trading.

From bold splashes of colour to cool metal chokers, there was a veritable cornucopia of fashionable add-ons offering inspiration and stylish new looks at Accessories The Show and WWDMagic, two events that ran concurrently with this year's Las Vegas Magic Market Week.

Overall, the US$50-billion North American accessories industry had a healthy 2014, even recording an 8% boost during the holiday season, according to the Accessories Council, the trade's representative body. Jewellery, bags, scarves and small accessories remain strong, while the industry is now also eyeing the potential of technology-related products. Men's accessories, though, proved the top growth category, up 16%, and raking in US$14.3 billion.

Assessing this upswing in the male sector, Karen Giberson, President of the Accessories Council, said: "Men are now getting much more comfortable wearing fashionable accessory products. In part, this trend has been driven by the electronics world, as men are buying things that are thoroughly designed and want their electronics contained in a way as beautiful as the product itself."

The move towards tech-related fashion continues to gain ground, with confident steps being taken into the wearable device sector. Last year, arguably, the most innovative ideas were confined to a few embellishments on activity trackers. For 2015, however, tech and fashion brands are coming together to develop entirely new products. At the 2015 International Consumer Electronic Show (CES), Fitbit [the San Francisco-based activity tracker company] announced a joint venture with Tory Burch [a New York-based women's fashion brand] with the aim of creating a collection of "Tory-esque" bracelets, pendants and wristbands. This month, Swarovski [the Austrian cut glass specialists] and MisFit [A California-based wearable tech company] are preparing to launch a Shine Slake activity tracking crystal in an exclusive cut. Several "notifier" rings and bracelets, eliminating the need to look at your phone to read text messages and updates, are also in the works.

Assessing the significance of these ventures, Giberson said: "A Fitbit is not very pretty, but a necklace with a big crystal is beautiful. Technology is going to be smaller and cheaper as time goes on. I can't even imagine everything that will be possible in the not too distant future."

Despite the enthusiasm for all things tech, traditional accessories still retain much of their appeal. With this in mind, Giberson singled out for particular praise tote bags that large enough to carry electronics and noted that the luxury options, whimsical designs, and bags with a story, such as a charity component, have been doing particularly well. By contrast, she said, the middle price zone has been noticeably flat. For 2015, she sees the coming trend as bucket and cross-body bags.

The hats category is also enjoying renewed popularity, a development partly due to fashion statements by the likes of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. As an extension of this, visors are predicted to migrate from the runway and become a hot item for spring and summer.

In terms of smaller accessories, the spotlight will be on sleek metal collars, mismatched earrings and rings worn on different parts of the fingers. This will also be the year of the stackable cuffs, available in leather, wood and metal and collectively providing a substantial, chunky look.

There has also been evolution in The Made in USA movement. From its broad base of a few years ago, it has now transformed into a focus on more specific points of origin. Highlighting this, Giberson said: "Customers are now looking for objects made in Brooklyn…Chicago… or whatever geographic market they're in. They like pieces with a story. Local sells."

Photo: Tote bags: A 2015 must-have.
Tote bags: A 2015 must-have.
Photo: Tote bags: A 2015 must-have.
Tote bags: A 2015 must-have.
Photo: Metal mesh jewellery.
Metal mesh jewellery.
Photo: Metal mesh jewellery.
Metal mesh jewellery.

Geography aside, over on the show floor, Tamara Goldsmith, a buyer with Oregon-based Redux LLC, was looking for jewellery pieces made of unusual materials. She said: "Rhinestones and traditional gemstone stuff are out. I've just placed an order for dyed wood pieces – big bobbly things assembled with beads."

Industrial and architectural motifs were the theme over on the stand of Alabama-based Sarah Cavender Metalworks, a company specialising in metal mesh jewellery and accessories. A small crowd formed around it range of bags and geometric cuffs, with the latter having a distinct and timely Game of Thrones vibe.

Assessing the trends from her own experience, Sarah Cavender, the founder of the business, said: "Our best-selling items right now are mesh scrunchies (bracelets). We take a single piece of pleated industrial material, oxidise it, then airbrush it with different colours." During the show, Cavender attracted the interest of several international buyers, as well as a number of museum stores and catalogues.

The more natural look seemed to appeal to the beach-inspired buyers browsing through the colourful tunics and scarves on the stand of California-based Rockflowerpaper. The company was back at the show after a three-year hiatus, a recognition of the improving economy and the growing sales of the brand's product through its network of independent retailers. For the 2015 spring/summer season, it was launching reusable shopping bags, with part of the proceeds going to Ocean Conservancy.

Christine Corsini, the company's National Sales Manager, said: "In California you can't use plastic bags any more and it's also starting to trend in other cities." In terms of other top sellers, she also cited market totes, describing them as "perfect for the beach and store and large and sturdy enough for electronics."

Another stand commanding considerable attention came courtesy of Canada's Darling's Trading, with many buyers' eyes drawn to its range of whimsical, bright purses. Kevin Lee, a Director of the Vancouver-based business, said: "These are conversation pieces. The teapot bag, for example, is popular with tea storeowners. They sell them as well as using them for decoration."

According to Lee, the perennial favourite here remains the owl, which got a new, smaller iteration for the 2015 spring/summer season. Second in popularity was the stiletto shoulder bag, now available in bright red and said to be perfect for making an entrance.

Similarly glamorous in its own way was the jewellery on show from Joe Vilaiwan. The Los Angeles-based designer had on offer a range of bold yet intricate necklaces, all resplendent with ancient Chinese motifs. To date, a number of his items have caught the imagination of Hollywood A-listers, with the late comedienne Joan Rivers said to have owned some 80 of his pieces.

At the event, gallery owners and museum store buyers got a rare chance to preview his latest collection, while actually getting to interact with the designer. When asked the thinking behind his distinctly over-the-top, hand-beaded turquoise and onyx pieces, Vilaiwan said: "They add a new dimension to any outfit. You can wear them with jeans or a T-shirt or with an evening dress."

Buyers looking to spruce up their stores with less expensive glittery items, however, might be advised to capitalise on the popularity of temporary golden and silver foil tattoos. Ranging from simple designs to crystal-embellished pieces ideal for Instagram or a prom dance, these relatively low-cost items seemed to mingle seamlessly with their serious and high-ticket cousins at both shows.

At the "tattoo bar", set in the middle of Accessories The Show, Jason Faulkner, an Account Executive with Massachusetts-based Printed Village, was showing attendees just how to create unique designs from a variety of patterns. Explaining the concept, he said: "The idea was originally introduced by Chanel at its runway show and started to trend last summer. This spring and summer, it's going to blow up."

The designs are applied with water and last between three and five days. Inspired by fashionistas' creativity, some exhibitors also used them to embellish flowerpots and candles, turning a US99 cent vanilla stick into a US$8.99 gift piece.

Along with the emergence of a Do It Yourself application, Faulkner was surprised by the change in demographics for the product. He said: "We expected them to skew younger, but discovered that women in their 40s to 60s are going crazy over them. They say they're buying them for their daughters and granddaughters, but we know that's far from the case."

Photo: Accessories The Show: Back in Las Vegas in August 2015.
Accessories The Show: Back in Las Vegas in August 2015.
Photo: Accessories The Show: Back in Las Vegas in August 2015.
Accessories The Show: Back in Las Vegas in August 2015.

Accessories The Show and WWDMagic 2015 were held from 17-20 February at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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