Thom Browne is ramping up his brand’s women’s wear accessories business. The preppy, tailored brand is introducing new handbag and shoe styles to its assortment each season as it looks to double its accessories sales in the next two to three years. New styles have been introduced for fall 2016 and resort 2017. True to Browne form, the designer has transposed Brooks Brothers-type embroidered pant motifs into eccentric arm candy. A coterie of Italian-made animal clutches with articulated joints, priced from $300 to $5,700, take the shape of rubber ducks, crabs, whales and elephants.
They join the label’s standby designs, which continue to be produced. They include a doctor’s bag, called the Mrs. Thom (classic size, $4,500), inspired by Browne’s father’s briefcase and the Dachshund-shaped Hector ($2,900), inspired by Browne’s dog. The entire bag spectrum, priced from $950 for a coin purse to $49,000 for an alligator Mrs. Thom satchel, are “beautifully made, while making sure there is some kind of humor or something unique about them. The last thing I think people need are basic bags,” Browne told WWD.
New shoe styles have been added to the mix as well. Court shoes with novelty heels, shaped like anchors, whales and sailboats now join the label’s repeat oxford and Chelsea boot styles. The shoe assortment ranges from $960 to $1,200. Accessories will be stocked at Dover Street Market, Forty Five Ten, The Room, Colette, Joyce and Lane Crawford for fall.
A steadfast practitioner of his unique madcap Americana aesthetic, it would make sense that Browne is looking to expand his accessories offering full-throttle. The designer — who dictates that his staff wear a “uniform” of head-to-toe Thom Browne suiting in the office each day — is known to appreciate an immersive fashion experience. Without a complete accessories assortment, a piece of his visionary pie could be up for public interpretation.
“I think it’s something important to round out the entire collection,” Browne said. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, but now I have the resources to do it; it’s just timing — business is really good,” he said of the impetus behind the accessories expansion. Browne clarified that the expansion is in no way tied to the controlling brand stake purchased by private equity firm Sandbridge Capital from Japan’s Stripe International earlier this year.
Industry sources estimate Thom Browne global annual sales at around $80 million, which are near-evenly split across Europe, the U.S. and Asia. The label’s women’s wear business accounts for less than one-third of sales. Less than one-third of women’s sales are presently attributed to accessories. Newly instated chief executive officer Rodrigo Bazan, who joined Thom Browne in May and previously served as president at Alexander Wang, feels this ratio has room for improvement.
While still devising a formal strategy, Bazan — who spoke to WWD while touring Thom Browne’s merchants and retail outlets in Asia — feels that women’s accessories sales could more than double in the next few years. “If you talk to retailers, it’s newer brands that are posting very significant growth, niche brands. There seems to be a big appetite for new brands and a lot of interest in the quality of product; we happen to be in the perfect scenario for that. We are new for markets and go after quality first. The accessories are truly a design expression of the brand,” he said.
While much of the accessories market is presently focused on bags’ functionality, Browne is less concerned. He admits that some of the bags, including the animal caricature minaudières that have enough interior space to perhaps fit three sticks of gum and a single house key, are not built for practicality. “For me, it was important to have something in the collection that is whimsical, I thought it was important to make it really well — almost a collectors’ piece in a way. The preppy icon shapes are more of a design piece…some have more function than others, some are just beautiful design objects — that are functional in a way.”
Bazan argued that, “functionality is important but so is a very unique expression. We were not expecting the volumes we are seeing of the Hector’or Whale bags; I think the emotional part is important in the marketplace.” “I would say that one of the most important things is that there is a consistent message, a high quality of product and a focused distribution,” he continued. If you combine all these elements — as a newer niche brand in the marketplace — that builds fantastic momentum.”