Last week, I spoke with Chavie Lieber of Racked about Prada’s current profit woes, much of which are tied to the recent underperformance of the leather goods that make up roughly 40% of Prada’s business. Lieber also talked to PB contributor Pattie Rechtman, luxury shoppers and industry analysts, and we all more or less agreed: Prada needs to do something about its handbag offerings. In my mind, that means looking beyond its saffiano totes and finding new ways to entice accessories buyers.
Prada’s saffiano bags aren’t bad. In fact, there’s a good chance that they’ll eventually take a spot in handbag history, and they’re a perfect at-work option for women who need a conservative bag that looks tailored and professional. Instead, Prada’s saffiano bags are a problem because there are simply too many of them; the Saffiano Luxe, Executive and Gardener totes look virtually identical, and all three come in multiple sizes and a rainbow of solid colors. The designs have remained virtually unchanged in the years since they debuted.
In the past year, Prada has introduced several lines of beautiful, open-top, soft-sided saffiano totes, but the problem is the same: there’s relatively little differentiation between the lines except for small differences in handle attachment and interior organization. Unless you have strong feelings about sewn-on handles versus buckles, there’s not much in the way of meaningful variety or novelty beyond color, and variety and novelty are the name of the game in handbags right now. Prada simply doesn’t have any answer for Fendi’s forward-thinking fun or Chanel’s zeitgeist-y themes.
For all of saffiano’s functionality and durability, it doesn’t feel like a luxury material when you touch it. Prada is in the position to use any materials and dazzling construction methods it wants because of its vast resources and brand recognition, and it would likely find success with expanded offerings in both exotics and high-end soft leathers. “Variety” needs to be something more than dozens of colors of saffiano leather in order to motivate luxury customers, whose options are plentiful and always changing.
Even when Prada does hit on something that feels full of modernity and urgency, like the wonderful Spring 2014 painted face bags, the brand does little to capitalize on the momentum. Once the initial offerings of those few designs had sold through, they were not replenished, and the line wasn’t continued into the next season in any meaningful way. Other brands are better at taking something that strikes a nerve and building it out into a full-fledged success that can last multiple seasons (which is, not coincidentally, usually how long it takes a successful brand to hit on another big thing). Prada generally chooses to go in an entirely new direction. Often, the momentum is lost.
As Lieber mentions in her article, Prada would also do well to reign in its availability. Like it or not, most luxury customers are motivated by scarcity, and Prada’s bags are everywhere. That’s in sharp contrast to the brand’s clothes, which are, by all indications, as successful as ever. They’re only available in Prada boutiques, and although ending wholesale in its entirety would be a severe move, pruning the department store availability back and offering an improved, more luxurious, more forward-thinking line of bags is the most likely road to success for Prada in the future.
The saffiano bags won’t be going anywhere, and they shouldn’t. But Prada has the ability to do so much more, and here’s hoping that Miuccia flexes her considerable creative muscles soon.
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