x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

What makes money in fashion?

It's accessories and bags that mark a brand's success.

Is fashion an art form or is it really just about making money? A day after the final pret-a-porter show in Paris WWD, the American clothing industry newspaper's headline read, "It's all about accessories, right?"

Presuming they had simply cut to the chase and honed in on what every business-brained executive wants to know post-collections - never mind the clothes, what are the accessories like? - I read on.

Actually the point the business-led authority was trying to make was that buyers and the press had this season found many of their best discoveries off-runway.

These days, catwalk show shoes (bags are a rare sight in autumn/winter shows) are more often just one style worn by all models to blend in/punch up the theme of the collection.

The actual "shoe of the season" by Chanel, Prada or Louis Vuitton can be found away from the bright lights and bustle of the show, in the candle-scented silent showroom.

Showrooms are where big business is done and besides cosmetics and perfumes, it's bags, boots and shoes rather than clothes that reap the greatest financial rewards for the men-in-suits behind LVMH and Gucci Group, etc.

Yes, fashion really is all about accessories (and perfumes and cosmetics).

Let's examine which brands in the current global economic slump are doing well. Not whom you might expect. Primark, Benetton and Next which offer fashion at a lower budget, have all seen a decrease in net sales recently.

Last week, the Italian high street giant Benetton announced that their profits had dropped by 17 per cent. Even Primark, which has been one of the strongest retail performers in recent years, barely made a 3 per cent profit in figures released in last month.

With luxury retailers, which rely on accessories as the heart and soul of their business, it's a different matter altogether. The Italian luxury footwear brand Tod's has just posted a 28.6 per cent increase in net profits to Dh537 million - a leap of Dh99m on last year's figures.

The Rome-based fine jeweller, Bulgari, has just announced that profits are up Dh184m, mainly through growth of watch sales. No wonder LVMH has paid Dh19 billion for a 50.4 per cent stake in the business - the biggest takeover in a decade, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine - and far more than it paid to get Hermès into its luxury goods stable last October.

Even though executives love it when a designer such as Christophe Decarnin can sell humble ripped jeans for Dh5,918, or lure another 20 princesses into the haute-couturesalon, as Riccardo Tisci has done for Givenchy, sales of accessories, or perfume, or cosmetics in particular are the best way to claw back the expense of theatrical catwalk presentations and advertising campaigns.

In February 2011, Puig, one of the largest global fragrance giants (it makes perfumes for Prada, Comme de Garçons and Nina Ricci), decided to re-enter the fashion world on the strength of its newly revived Paco Rabanne perfumes doing so well.

This October, in a topsy turvy turn of events, the Indian designer Manish Arora will create a ready-to-wear line for Paco Rabanne, the first in five years (traditionally you establish a successful clothing line before launching a blockbuster fragrance).

What ever happened to Paco Rabanne, the designer who invented the chain metal dress? Who cares. Paco Rabanne, the brand, launched a menswear fragrance in 2008, called 1 Million (Black Xs Perfume is the patchouli-scented equivalent for women) which has become the "Brut" of its time and made Puig a fortune. Mulberry has its supersized Alexa and Bayswater handbags to thank for its recent Dh1,532,000,153.16 pre-tax profit.

Last week Gina shoes - whose current bestseller is a pink snakeskin platform with a 100mm heel and a price tag of Dh4,081 - saw the launch of its second boutique in the Mall of the Emirates, a whopping 132 square metre space designed by the British architects Caulder Moore, who don't come cheap.

So, what will be the "it" accessories of spring that will boost both the profits and the prestige of a brand?

Prada's banana earrings and "Iron Lady" two-tone (navy/pink) structured handbags (inspired by the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and Chanel's macramé necklaces and cobweb knit bracelet/ring pieces, which might even give its quilted bags a run for their money.