ITALIANS take their accessories seriously. Two floors of Milan's upscale la Rinascente department store are devoted to handbags and shoes, and accessories boutiques predominate the city in which the statement bag reigns supreme.
During Milan Fashion Week, three Italian brands further upped the accessories ante. For the first time in the history of MFW, Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani hosted an event showcasing shoes and bags before they staged their runway shows.
At the Armani hotel above the Emporio Armani superstore on Via Manzoni, press were ushered into a suite to view new-season shoes and handbags scattered throughout the bedroom, living room and dining area. Man-style flat lace-ups with a rockabilly feel came in patent leather or satin, combined with suede for Emporio Armani, while Giorgio Armani's footwear also had a masculine bent. Featuring a low heel and lace-up or buckle-up closure, the latter's shoes of brushed calfskin and striped or spotted ponyskin were in vivid hues of royal blue and bright orange, as well as classic black and white. Bags for both brands had a geometric shape and were sturdily constructed, in everything from petite circular suede and mesh clutches to alligator totes.
The decision to showcase accessories before the runway shows is part of an aggressive new focus on the category. Known for ready-to-wear, Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani are expanding to better compete with rivals, and a new designer has been employed in a bid to capture a greater share of the lucrative area.
On the Emporio Armani runway the next day, almost no outfit was shown without a handbag or clutch, but rather than shameless cash-cow extras, their sparkle and allure appeared as a seamless element to the joyous and highly feminine show.
Down the road on Via Monte Napoleone, jeweller Bulgari debuted its range of luxury handbags and clutches during MFW. With older customers comprising the core clientele for the brand's twinkling, coloured-stone necklaces, earrings and bracelets with eye-watering prices, a move into less-expensive bags for younger women is less a whim and more a necessity.
Hand-enamelled snake heads with eyes of malachite appeared as closures on boxy clutches and handbags in emerald green and black, with slithering snake scale-like chain straps. Satin clutches featured detachable wrist ''bracelets'' for ease of movement and glorious screen-printed scarves incorporating up to 50 colours also worked the house's snake motif. Other soft bags of lattice-like leather texture featured shiny, coloured-glass casts of antique coins set into their handles and the luxurious Karung skin (watersnake from Indonesia) was used for smooth flap handbags in brown and blue.
In July, Bulgari will launch a bespoke bag project in Sydney, the first city in the world to receive the service. Customers will be able to customise their handbag, as part of a service catering to the global demand for individuality in retail.