Financial analysts and fashion experts alike have been predicting the death of the It-bag for months, but it seems that designer handbags have risen from the grave, despite the economic sickness threatening many high-end fashion brands.
The luxury handbag maker Mulberry has announced a 21 per cent increase in UK retail sales during 2009, and a 45 per cent increase at its discount stores.
"It's business as usual," said chief executive Godfrey Davis. "We're very pleased – we were cautious with our predictions, but I think this reflects the work we have put into our ranges." The British brand's pre-tax profits were down to £4.2m from £5.2m the previous year, but sales were buoyed by the introduction of a range of new bags.
The Mitzy bags, from Mulberry's spring/summer collection, are the latest in a line of successful, paparazzi-friendly styles that have caught public attention. The larger size costs £450, compared to £550 for the classic Bayswater style and other bags made from ostrich and calfskin that sell for up to £2,000. "The Mitzys struck a chord with customers," says Mr Davis. "They're a very clever piece of design, because they're a universal style which comes in classic colours as well as pink and orange, jollier and younger versions."
Mulberry has also expanded its popular clothing line in recent years. While these sales may be negligible in terms of the overall increase, they have gone some way towards firming up a brand identity in times that are increasingly competitive for high-end labels. "They have the whole package," says Calgary Avansino, executive fashion editor at Vogue. "They bridge the gap between classics and what's desirable at the moment. People can sense a confidence and want to be part of it."
The increase in sales from Mulberry's discount store at outlet park Bicester Village in Oxfordshire is worth noting – clearance stock from around the world is only sold at discounted prices there. Many tourists have come to London, and to Bicester especially, to take advantage of these discounts and of the favourable exchange rate.
"Value" and "investment pieces" are the buzzwords of the moment. Where disposable fast-fashion was once an option, consumers are looking to buy things that last, and will pay more for that. "It's less fashionable to be seen with lots of carrier bags these days," adds Godfrey Davis. "There has been much more of a move towards pieces that are classic, towards conservatism."
Gone are the days of buying every season's It-bag or paying £13,000 for Burberry's Warrior bag. But that's not to say consumers won't splash out on a little treat every now and then.