The Luxury sector once dominated the accessories market, offering consumers a reasonable entry point into some of the world’s most coveted and expensive houses. For luxury conglomerate Kering, 2017 was reported as its most profitable year on record with group net profits up 77.6 percent from the previous year, and the likes of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga continuing to show spectacular sales growth. Bain & Co. reported that accessories remained the largest and fastest-growing luxury goods category at the end of 2017.
Riding this trend are a host of advanced contemporary footwear and handbag labels blossoming in the Goldilocks zone; the ideal affordable luxury space in the market where quality merges with groundbreaking design and accessible price points. Offering products that can seamlessly slip into the millennial wardrobe, these young labels easily build online followings and gain global status through social media.
In a recent report on The State Of Fashion, McKinsey & Co. stated that the affordable luxury market segment remains on the rise this year, swelling to 4.5 percent —the second highest segment after luxury. The handbag and footwear categories were further reported to be on a return towards their historic highs, both coming in second highest after the sportswear category.
Cherished favourites like Mansur Gavriel and Cult Gaia once spearheaded the world of mid-market accessories, but now a wave of talented designers across the globe are churning out the next It bag or statement shoe. Keen to win the hearts of consumers over big name brands, fresh labels like Reike Nen, LOQ, Neous, By Far and Danse Lente are redefining the accessories sphere, keeping comfort, simplicity and bold designs at their core.
South Korean footwear label Reike Nen is one on every It girl’s radar. With an aesthetic coined “contemporary refinement” by designer and founder Rei Yoon Hongmi, the label serves up minimalist silhouettes with signature column-shaped heels. Finding the perfect balance between innovative design, comfort and a contemporary appeal, Hongmi explains her designs are informed by “bringing together classic and elegant historical elements with a contemporary vision. In doing so, the aim is to create a new kind of refined style.”
Reike Nen’s latest Spring Summer ‘18 collection was inspired by finding equilibrium in life. “It is not true that only extreme hardships and happiness can make life special. Often, the more common and banal elements of day to day life can establish balance, accumulating and compensating against one another to create beautiful harmony” muses Hongmi. This balance is reflected through the meticulous level of detail embedded into each uncomplicated design, including abstract gold hardware, carefully pleated leather and the use of quality, natural materials. Another of Reike Nen’s trademarks is their round toe front design with a squared shaped sole, offering a subtle but unique contrast.
Initially studying womenswear design at Ewha women’s college in Seoul, Rei Yoon Hongmi found herself becoming more attuned to the field of accessories after working as a women’s footwear designer for Korean company Handsome, the fashion unit of Hyundai department store. After launching her label in 2010, Hyundai was the label’s first supporter and stockist. Soon after, Reike Nen landed international stockists such as Liberty London and now boasts points of sales at some of the world’s most prestigious retailers including Nordstrom, Lane Crawford, Moda Operandi, Forward by Elyse Walker, Browns London and Assembly New York.
Reike Nen has been gaining traction internationally, having teamed up with the likes of London-based label Mother of Pearl, collaborating on a number of footwear styles for their AW’17 collection. Past collaborations have also seen Reike Nen team up with Korean contemporary favourites Maison Kimhekim and luxe streetwear label SJYP.
Helmed by fashion stylist Vanissa Antonious and designer Alan Buanne, Neous is a minimalist footwear label inspired by the simple but radical design principles of Bauhaus. Function, quality and a less-is-more approach remain essential to the label’s philosophy, with clever geometric cutouts and clean shapes offering a point of difference. Off-kilter details and silhouettes make this label a standout such as an elegant mule bluntly squared off, the leather edge cut higher than expected, or a vivid pop of colour. The label’s signature sphere or pyramid block heels carve the brand an identity unlike nothing else on the market today.
Buanne used his technical Italian craft knowledge, acquired from his classical training in Florence, to inform shoe designs which are comfortable but inherently striking. Valuing provenance and style, the label follows an uncompromising approach to quality materials including supple calfskin, butter-soft suede and hand woven macramé.
Since launching in 2016, Neous has graced the pages of publications such as Vogue, Grazia and Elle, and is swiftly building an impressive portfolio of global retailers including Tokokaelo New York, Bergdorf Goodman, On Pedder Hong Kong, Dover Street Market London, Boutique 1 Lebanon and Kadawe Germany.
Accessory disruptor By Far was launched in 2016 in Bulgaria by twins Valentina Bezuhanova and Sabina Gyosheva, and friend Denitsa Bumbarova. With the trio struggling to find shoes they loved, they were impassioned to marry function, comfort and style with their mutual quest for the perfect pair of shoes.
One-third of By Far’s footwear collections are sustainably sound, produced from deadstock leather rescued from luxury Italian factories. This initially set the brand apart from traditional models, not only on their home turf in Bulgaria but also worldwide. Boasting more than 94,000 Instagram followers, By Far has leveraged social media to quickly gain consumer attention; zoomed in shots of the high-quality handmade pieces are quick to turn content into dollars.
One of their newest stockists is The Undone, an online destination for effortless luxury, with an edit of progressive designers including Rejina Pyo, Christopher Esber and Dion Lee. As the virtual boutique’s first season stocking By Far, Director and Buyer Sara Crampton has seen a remarkable response from consumers.
"Our customers responded instantly to the launch of this new label. Within a couple of weeks, I needed to place a reorder and I’ve had customers requesting other styles from the brand as well. I’m really impressed by the content By Far is creating, their focus on social media marketing and getting their product seen on influencers no doubt contributes to the success of the brand across its stockists", reflects Crampton.
With friends in high places, By Far has been seen on the backs of Alicia Vikander, Demi Moore and Emma Roberts to name but a few. Effortless suede mules, pared-down booties and slingback sandals visit some of the most classic and best-selling shoe styles with a twist; vintage motifs, modern colours and a solid contemporary aesthetic.
Translating to ‘slow dance’ in French, London-based Danse Lente was launched in 2016 by Korean native Youngwon Kim. Focusing on high-quality handbags and leather goods, Danse Lente’s designs draw inspiration from the playful sensibility of Matisse cut-outs or the abstract minimalism of an Isamu Noguchi sculpture. Its architectural silhouettes are the perfect statement piece to compliment the modern day wardrobe, becoming a firm favourite amongst style influencers and fashion editors across the world.
Racking up over 40,000 fans on Instagram, Danse Lente’s considerable portfolio of acclaimed stockists includes Selfridges, Le Bon Marche, Lane Crawford, Boon The Shop and Dover Street Market, and a plethora of other points of sales across Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Footwear specialist LOQ was founded in 2015 by Keren Longkumer and Valerie Quant, who met whilst studying footwear design in Los Angeles. Recognising their mutual affinity for unconventional forms, proportions and a love for beautiful quality shoes, the duo decided to blend California’s relaxed sensibility with the rich colours and textures of India, with the intention to redefined classics for the modern day woman.
Designed in Los Angeles and made in Spain, LOQ’s attention to detail and unfussy, minimalist appeal has garnered celebrity fans like Solange, who flaunted a pair of LOQ’s signature strappy Xavi sandals in her Cranes In The Sky music video. It’s no wonder the label has amassed over 103,000 followers on Instagram and has won the hearts of notable stylists the world over, offering the most versatile selection of simple but considered footwear staples.