The bag market is dominated by huge luxury brands, but in the past year, a handful of smaller designers have made waves
Getting noticed in the luxury bag market is hard. Shoppers are generally more comfortable spending big money with a name they recognize and that has a history behind its products, which sets a big obstacle for upstarts out of the gate. On top of that, most large-scale designer brands are owned by one of a few luxury conglomerates, which have vast resources for talent acquisition, leather sourcing, celebrity seeding, marketing and advertising. If a brand hits exactly the right note that its larger competitors have missed, though, big things are still possible: just look at Mansur Gavriel and its rapidly expanding business, which capitalized on the dearth of sophisticated options for young women at a three-figure price point.
Mansur Gavriel's success has set the stage for retailers and shoppers to be a little bit more open-minded toward luxury upstarts than they might have been in years past, as long as those brands provide something unique. Plenty of brands have risen to that occasion, and a half dozen really stand out of the crowd. These names will likely sound familiar to varying extents, so here's a primer on what you should know about six of the industry's hottest up-and-comers.
1. Gabriela Hearst
If you pay attention to street style stars or read our site regularly, then you're well aware of the Gabriela Hearst Nina Bag, the designer's first. Despite its very unique shape and structure, the Nina has had significant luck finding admirers among fashion's upper echelon (we're looking at you, Miroslava Duma), and as a brand, Hearst seems to only be picking up speed these days. Even if these quirky, structurally unique bags don't appeal to you at the moment, it's still a brand well worth keeping an eye on.
2. Danse Lente
Shop Danse Lente via Moda Operandi
Danse Lente is a new, London-based leather goods brand designed by South Korean-born Youngwon Kim, with an emphasis on structure and movement. ("Danse lente" means "slow dance" in French.) The brand is small and relatively new, but with early champions like Moda Operandi and Net-a-Porter, as well as a steadfastly contemporary price point that makes the architectural designs accessible to many, Danse Lente has enormous potential that could be realized very quickly.
3. Cult Gaia
Shop Cult Gaia via Shopbop
Cult Gaia might be the first bag brand to develop a following almost purely on Instagram, but it probably won't be the last. The young, California-based brand, launched in 2012 by Jasmin Larian, has developed a following among style bloggers and the young shoppers who look to them for inspiration with its signature Ark Bag. The bag's super-distinct design and sub-$300 price point have combined to make it a sellout hit; now we wait and see if Cult Gaia can work that same magic for more utilitarian bags.
4. Nico Giani
Shop Nico Giani via Net-a-Porter
Nico Giani is run by Italian designer Niccolo Giannini, and his central mission for his simple, modern bags is to keep things compact. He does that by eschewing embellishment and extra design elements in favor of simple, structural, leather-wrapped shapes in bold colors, and the results feel very of-the-moment. They're not so trendy that moving the brand forward will be super tricky, though, which is among the reasons why it's worth watching how Giannini's vision expands in the next year or so. Another reason? Giannini's serving up sophisticated accessories at decidedly three-figure price points.
5. Simon Miller
Shop Simon Miller via Net-a-Porter
American brand Simon Miller debuted its bags in 2014 after six years as a men's denim brand, and the new direction has been a hit, to say the least. We gave designers Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford a nod earlier this year as an emerging brand, and the continued success of its hand-held bucket bags and totes bode well for Simon Miller's potential in the accessories market. To make it work, though, Corrigan and Hansford are going to need to explore bags that can be shoulder-carried at some point in the near future. For now, the simplicity of their hand-carried buckets and totes feels perfectly California-cool without being too boho.
Shop Simonetta Ravizza via Bergdorf Goodman
As a brand, Simonetta Ravizza has been specializing in fur since 1990, but it's been only recently that you've probably noticed its plush, furry, colorful bags start to pop up in significant numbers. They're shaped like literal plastic grocery bags but rendered in mink, and they're favored by—you guessed it—the street style crowd. Fashion's ever-evolving relationship with fur (recently, Gucci pledged to go all-faux in the very near future) could hurt the brand's ability to expand with accessories shoppers, which is the only thing that gives me pause here.
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