As slow as the luxury industry has been to embrace online shopping, it seems as though some of the traditional high-end heavyweights are looking to get really serious about earning your Internet-purchase dollars. Starting today, both NeimanMarcus.com and BergdorfGoodman.com will be offering free shipping and free returns on almost any online order from here on out. Some restrictions do apply (occasional items shipped directly from manufacturer, for example), but there’s no minimum purchase. There’s also no end date – this isn’t a promotion, it’s a long-term change in shipping and returns policy for both major retailers. That’s welcome news to everyone, but I’m sure it’ll be especially welcome to luxury consumers who aren’t located near the relatively few retail outlets that carry brands like Prada and Givenchy in-store. (I have been one of those shoppers in the past and I know their struggle.)

Below, we’ve picked out the bags that we’d love to buy to take advantage of this new deal. To get started shopping, head on over to Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Late last week when LVMH announced that it had taken a controlling stake in the business of young British shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood, a good portion of the buzz surrounding the sale centered on which other young company might be next. Even before that sale, rumors flew about LVMH and British ready-to-wear and menswear brand JW Anderson, and now those rumors have come to fruition. Not only does LVMH now own a minority stake in the brand itself, but founder/designer John Anderson will be taking over the creative helm at LVMH-owned Loewe.

Yesterday’s announcement of the simultaneous moves helps bring into focus some of the last bits of a game of designer musical chairs that started when Reed Krakoff left Coach months ago. Emma Hill then left Mulberry, and speculation was rampant that either she would go to Coach, or Marc Jacobs would leave Louis Vuitton at the end of his contract and move on to the American contemporary giant. None of that came to fruition; instead, Stuart Vevers left Loewe out of the blue to take the Coach helm, and although no one knows when he’ll actually start at Coach (or when Krakoff will make his exit final), that left Loewe without a designer. With the brand’s recent momentum, it seemed likely that LVMH wouldn’t want to let Loewe linger without a creative director for long, and sure enough, here comes Anderson to take that spot.

JW Anderson first rose to prominence for his menswear, and as his profile expanded, so did his brand, specifically to women’s wear. Considering his story and background, his aesthetic is approximately what you’d expect – very modern and often a bit sporty, with a note of British traditionalism peeking out every one in a while. Much of it (expect perhaps the men’s shift dresses) is very wearable and fits well with the industry’s current interest in streetwear, but with a more thoughtful finish. It will be interesting to see what kind of marriage it’ll be between the young Londoner and the old Spanish leather goods brand in particular. Here’s hoping that an influx of LVMH money also expands Anderson’s eponymous brand to include handbags is well.

To both invest in JW Anderson and appoint him the head of one of its brands, LVMH must see quite the future for John Anderson. It’s the same kind of setup the conglomerate bestowed upon Marc Jacobs over a decade ago.

At the moment, fashion seems flush with young talent – from Prabal Gurung to JW Anderson, it’s easy to imagine the next generation of fashion superstars emerging from their status as independents to do bigger, better and more widely available things. After all, Raf Simons was once just a forward-thinking Belgian menswear designer, and now he’s at the helm of Dior. With news late last week that LVMH has purchased a majority stake in the shoe brand of young Brit Nicholas Kirkwood, he’s just joined the line to get called up to the majors. (more…)

I recently had occasion to try and recall what the price of a Louis Vuitton Speedy Bag was during my college years, which weren’t so long ago, and only when I came up with the number of $560 did I realize how quickly designer handbag prices have crept up in those intervening eight years. (I’m assuming that was the opening price point for the bag around when I became aware of luxury handbags, which was 2005 or so, although I can’t place the number with total certainty.) The Speedy now starts at $855, which is a price increase of almost 53% in less than a decade, far outpacing both inflation and the market-wide price increases for non-luxury consumer goods. What gives?

According to Business of Fashion, a few things are at play. First, Louis Vuitton is far from the only brand to increase prices at such a rapid clip. Marquee pieces from both Hermes and Manolo Blahnik have had price increases of 50-60% in the past decade, and annual or biannual announced price increases of up to 13% at a time are de rigueur for brands like Vuitton and Chanel. BoF reports that the average cost of manufacturing and selling a bag is about 35% of its final retail price, and most brands use the high margins on handbags, along with shoes and beauty products, to balance out their less profitable ventures – namely, the clothing that fleshes out the brand’s luxurious, fashion-forward image and makes people want to buy into the brand via a bag or tube of mascara. And also, you know, to make sure that Roberto Cavalli’s yacht renovations are ready in time for Cannes.

The costs that make up that 35% determine what the 100% price will be, of course, and all of that stuff just keeps getting more expensive. The cost of Chinese labor has nearly doubled in the past decade, and if you think that shouldn’t affect the price of your “Made in Italy” bag, think again. Your bag, in whole or in part, likely made its way through a Chinese laborer’s hands at some point in the manufacturing process. The global prices for leather and cotton are also ever on the rise, with cotton in particular at an all-time high, and those costs are more or less fixed for handbag brands – they can’t forgo the materials entirely, no matter what they do. Some companies have acquired tanneries in order to vertically integrate as much of the process as possible and keep prices for materials manageable, but it doesn’t entirely solve the problem.

Some of the problem, too, is simply our baser instincts as consumers. There’s a bit of voodoo to creating successful luxury accessories, and part of that is making them seem as desirable as possible. The more out of reach something seems, the more fashion customers fetishize it, and that leads the status-conscious and the deep-pocketed alike to make purchases in droves. There is likely a point at which an elevated price tag affects the number of units sold in such a way that it hurts profits, but it seems as though designers have yet to find it – they keep raising prices and we keep buying, and even if the number of units moved decreases a little bit, the higher prices make up for it. And then some.

Lastly, BoF points out, the market for luxury accessories keeps expanding. Burgeoning markets in places like China, Brazil and India mean that more people are interested in a finite amount of goods, which drives prices up no matter the industry. With more customers than ever, designer brands can name their prices, and they are.

To read more, check out the full feature on Business of Fashion.

If you live in Hong Kong, have an impressive handbag collection and find yourself short on cash, you’re in luck – you might be eligible for a handbag loan! According to the Wall Street Journal, one enterprising lender in the burgeoning Chinese luxury retail hub is helping wealthy women, many of them housewives, turn their prized handbags into quick cash, from a couple hundred bucks to many thousands.

The Yes Lady Finance Company is the first of its kind, in Hong Kong or elsewhere. Riva Gold and Chester Yung of the WSJ talked to the lender and some of its clients, and here’s how it works: a client brings a handbag (or many handbags – one of the customers in the story brought in almost 50 Gucci bags) in to the office, and an authenticator from a local luxury resale chain verifies the bag’s origins and assesses value. In general, only bags from Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci qualify for Yes Lady loans, and once a value is assigned, the company cuts its client a check for 80% of that number – no income verification or background checks are required. Yes Lady is somewhere between a pawn shop and a traditional lender.

Clients then have four months at 4% interest to pay back the loan and reclaim their designer handbags, and apparently the vast majority do. Only a cursory mention was given to those who try and acquire loans based on fake bags, and the lenders feel confident that they can weed them out. It wasn’t entirely explained why a woman who’s described as “wealthy” and who has a trove of designer bags might need to turn one over for a short-term loan, except that sometimes all of a family’s money is “tied up in stock,” which, to me, would have been an interesting avenue to explore. Something’s missing about why a woman with a Birkin worth over $20,000, like one described in the WSJ article, would need to hawk it, and why there’s enough of those women in the emerging Hong Kong market to support an entire lending company.

And the luxury leather goods slap-fight continues! Just when you thought that LVMH might be appropriately chastened by its multi-million euro fine for using what amounts to using subterfuge and trickery to compile a rather enormous stake in family-owned Hermes, the French fashion conglomerate, helmed by Bernard Arnault, goes and does it again, according to Women’s Wear Daily. (more…)

For a man who’s just been given a new job, the detail that former Loewe creative director Stewart Vevers went into when talking to Women’s Wear Daily about his nascent arrival at Coach and what it means for the future of the brand was pretty impressive. Vevers has clearly had some time to consider the company’s idea of its future and how his creative vision fits into it, and we’re feeling pretty excited that it may be a great match indeed.

Vevers told WWD that, first and foremost, he plans to make use of Coach’s leather goods heritage. While that’s not exactly surprising – heritage goods are extremely popular among customers because of the look’s implied luxury – it is right in line with how Coach has gained its most recent success. A more traditional look, mixed with splashes of modernity like brights and colorblocking, has proved key for the brand in attracting sophisticated, high-value customers who may have formerly considered the brand more suited for suburban soccer moms and teenagers. I’m one of those people, and so are many of my friends; although I wouldn’t have considered purchasing a Coach bag a few years ago, I now regularly see simple, fun leather bags from the brand that I’d love to carry. Vevers, with his history at heritage brands like Loewe and Louis Vuitton, is a good match to carry that success forward. Vevers employed that same strategy at Loewe in particular, to considerable success.

The designer’s experience with Paris Fashion Week-approved ready-to-wear will also be useful in hastening Coach’s plan to transition into a full-fledged lifestyle brand instead of simply a destination for accessories. The company already has strategy in place to add more apparel and footwear into its stores, as well as expand its men’s business with more variety and a larger product assortment. Vevers seems on board with that plan, and he also specifically mentioned diversifying the brand’s price point – Coach has dabbled with spendy exotics in the past, but apparently the $5,000 Coach bag will be regularly scheduled programming in the near future. Fret not, though – the interview gave no indication that those bags are going to be made at the exclusion of the brand’s more attainably priced options.

If you have a subscription, check out the full, wide-ranging interview via WWD.

First of all: It’s not Marc Jacobs, so everyone can quit bugging him about it. Second of all: We were correct to speculate that Coach might tap a former Mulberry creative director as heir to Reed Krakoff’s throne when he departs in the near future, but we just didn’t speculate about the right one. Instead of recently deposed Emma Hill, Loewe’s Stuart Vevers, who left Mulberry in 2008, will fill Coach’s top design spot, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

Vevers, a Brit who’s worked at brands from Bottega Veneta to Louis Vuitton, has an excellent European accessories pedigree and was even named the British Council’s Accessory Designer of the Year in 2006. After a stint at Mulberry that set the brand up for its current mass-market success, Vevers was tasked with relaunching Spanish leather good brand Loewe. In his time there, the brand has gone from a relative afterthought in the industry to showing well-received collections at Paris Fashion Week and placing the brand’s Amazona (above) and Flamenco bags in the hands of more than a few chic starlets.

With that history, Vevers does seem to have something of a particular touch for handbags, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does when given the enormous resources of a brand like Coach. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility – this will be Vevers’ most high-profile post yet, and Coach has an expectant and opinionated fan base like few other handbag brands within the industry. Coach’s bags also come in at the most accessible prices of any brand in Vevers’ career; I, for one, can’t wait to see how he translates his modern, luxurious aesthetic to a line of products that lots of people can afford to own.

Twice is a coincidence, but three times is a trend, so now that we’ve found a fourth Hermes Birkin covered in graffiti, I feel pretty comfortable saying that defiling the iconic handbag with pain, markers and pens is officially a thing. The latest graffiti’d Birkin comes courtesy of street-art duo Mint & Serf, also known as The Mirf, who were commissioned by Jeff Kain to personalize a while leather Birkin that he bought for his wife Lynn Ban (you might be familiar with her jewelry line). That’s hot on the heels of Moda Operandi’s marked-up Birkin, plus self-styled versions by both Lady Gaga and Nicola Formichetti.

Of the four different Birkin-customization techniques we’ve seen, this one is definitely the most clearly graffiti-inspired. Or perhaps “inspired” isn’t the word – it’s straight-up covered in the stuff, and the commissioned work cost several thousand dollars on its own, according to the Daily Mail. In contrast, Moda Operandi’s version is by far the most sophisticated and traditionally beautiful of the customizations, and both Gaga and Formichetti went to town in their own personal ways. The common thread, though, is the Hermes Birkin. No other bag has had art projects performed on it so fervently, and the reason why people love to mark it up is probably similar to why Francesca Eastwood decided to set one on fire last year – there’s something undeniably attractive about the opportunity to subvert an icon.

If you live in or have traveled to a place where Birkins are very commonly carried, you probably know that there’s often a look associated with them – upper-crust women who are prim and put-together, even when headed to a spin class. (Perhaps especially when headed to a spin class.) That image of decorum and privilege, combined with the extravagant price of an Hermes Birkin and its tailored, traditional look, have turned the bag into an easily recognizable totem of profligate wealth, which is currently a fashionable thing to reject. Nominally, anyway – you still have to have that wealth in order to acquire a Birkin to destroy in the first place. Or “customize.” Whichever way you prefer to see it. I’m still not sure which word I’d use.

If you’ve ever walked along Canal Street, you probably have a good idea of just how big of a business fake handbags are on the black market in New York City. Even when you’re walking quickly, by yourself, with your sunglasses and headphones on (which are basically all the quick visual cues for “not a tourist, don’t bother me” in NYC), it’s hard to make it more than a few steps down that famous street without hawkers shoving price lists and stock cards in your face. Take your headphones off, and even above the roar of traffic and casual conversation, you can hear people murmuring “handbags, handbags” at every passing body. Those salespeople are out there for a reason – tourists flock to Canal to buy fake designer handbags and watches, which are illegal to sell, but not to purchase. If one New York City councilwoman gets her way, that’s about it change. (more…)

Follow Closely