Not long ago, a friend who works for a major fashion brand asked me, out of the blue, which handbags designers I thought sold the best at department stores. For some reason, it was a question I had never quite thought about in those terms before; so many of the most sought-after accessories labels don’t retail through third parties that it’s hard to gauge where the rest of the pack ranks without solid facts and figures in front of me. Thinking about handbags while disregarding Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes (all of whom control their own retail outlets, even within department stores) seemed entirely foreign.

My best guesses at the time were Celine and Proenza Schouler. Those are the brands who get the most slavish response from fashion people, and I know from personal experience how hard it can be to put your hands on the Celine bag of your choice. As it turns out, I was right – Women’s Wear Daily reports that Celine and Proenza are still a huge highlight in an accessories market that has grown by double digits in the last year. Who else is popular? Some of the names might surprise you.

The WWD article, penned by Rachel Strugatz, is worth a read if you have a subscription and are interested in such things, but the upshot of it is this: an It Bag helps, but a brand doesn’t need an It bag to continue to move handbags. Beyond Celine and Proenza, which were somewhat predictable because both can be difficult to find in particular colors or fabrications unless you move quickly, Saks Fifth Avenue handbag and accessories guru Elizabeth Kanfer also singled out Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney as top performers. Beyond the fact that they’re all highly known brands, none of the three has had a huge bag breakthrough in the past year. The Yves Saint Laurent Cabas Chyc seems to do well, but I haven’t heard the same type of buzz about it as you hear for the latest Celine bag. Or that you used to hear from the YSL Muse, for that matter. Meanwhile, both Kanfer and Barneys New York executive vice president Daniela Vitale singled out 3.1 Phillip Lim as an emerging bright spot.

As far as trends goes, Kanfer cites one that we’ve already told you about in great detail – pastels! Yes, people really do buy mint green and ice blue handbags, which makes me inexplicably happy. The accessories business in general seems to be thriving, with some stores reporting as much as a 23% increase in year-on-year business. I’d tell you guys to keep up the happy shopping, but it seems like you don’t need to hear it from me. Read the entire article via Women’s Wear Daily, which includes lots of fun info about shoe trends as well. (Hint: Isabel Marant.)

  • Camilla

    You can easily find a Celine bag with no waiting list (they do not accept it in Italy, only in France) in Milan at La Rinascente Department store. Prices go from 1200 Euros up.

    • http://www.purseblog.com/ Amanda Mull

      They’ve become easier to find on the shelves in the US too as of late, but certain colors or color combinations are still waitlist-only.

  • unknown2cherubim

    1.  I’m in love with Phillip Lim 3.1.  I will be buying one, one of these days.
    2.  Pastels suit me.  It feels like it has been years since the fashion world has embraced pastels so thoroughly.  I am loving all the choices.

  • FashionableLena

    Not a real fan of Stella McCartney.  With that being said, I’ve seen the Celine bag at Nordstrom’s, but I don’t think that the three bags displayed even lasted the day. 
    What amazes me was that Stella McCartney was on the list.  Even if money were no object, I wouldn’t pay that much money for a non-leather handbag.

    • Alexandra Davidoff

      Definitely agree. I wouldn’t pay for fake leather either, it is just WRONG! ;) 

    • http://dontaskmetosmile.wordpress.com/ dontaskmetosmile

      Was about to say the exact same thing about Stella McCartney handbags. Charging luxury-brand-leather prices for smelly, environmentally-unfriendly PVC is ludicrous.

  • Ra

    PS is way over-rated, its basically a one successful design brand. May be big in the US, dont see it in Europe, UK. Doesnt stand anywhere close to Celine. Seriously, what is the hype all about?

    • http://www.purseblog.com/ Amanda Mull

      Well, Proenza is a very young American brand, so it follows logically that its American presence would be more heavy than its presence overseas. And for a brand that has only been doing bags for a few years, I think that both the PS1 and PS11 are beautiful, well-designed pieces. I much prefer my PS1 to the Celine Luggage Tote I had, it’s a much more functional bag for everyday use with a younger, urban consumer. 

      • Ra

        Well, can not  agree that a flap bag is more functional (read, comfortable to use) than a tote with a zip top – it must be hell getting thing in and out of the PS1.  I anticipate you will now raise the “but it has a shoulder strap” defence)) 

      • 19yearslater

        Dunno about Amanda, but I’ll raise that defense! The PS1 has that strap that allows it to be carried over the shoulder, which frees the hands and allows it to be accessed without setting it down or even using both hands. I also tend to find that slouchy bags are more useable than structured, but then again I’m an American woman in my 20s so that’s pretty true to the aesthetic my type prefers.

      • http://dontaskmetosmile.wordpress.com/ dontaskmetosmile

        I have both types of bags, and I daresay both are functional in their own ways. I love how roomy totes are and how easily I can dump stuff in it. But personally, I find totes with zip tops a pain to get in and out of on the go. I always close the zipper all the way (lesson learned, I was almost stolen from in Paris because my tote zipper was open) and I usually find that I need to move my bag all the way in front of me for me to open the zipper all the way and get what I need. More often than not, I have to stop walking to do this because I also have to navigate the inner recesses of my bag once I actually get it opened. Granted, I am a klutz so walking while having my nose buried in my bag is not a good idea for me.

        Not so with my Alexa. Yes, the flap’s a little fiddly, but I can get in and out of it easier without having to pause and stop walking. I also find it easier to commute in very crowded trains and buses with a cross body than a tote (just keep it in front of you at all times). I do think that the medium options are the best for cross-bodies and that with the large/oversized ones, the straps are too thin to support the weight of the bag and whatever you put in it.

        So I guess it’s not really a matter of one being better than the other. It will highly depend on what kind of life you lead, what type of things you’ll be doing in a day. And, also, how coordinated you are. Haha.