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Rebecca Minkoff and fashion's sweet spot

July 27, 2011 |  7:58 am

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For several years now, the sweet spot in fashion has been the contemporary price point (clothing priced from $150 to $1,000). Which is why so many new generation American designers (Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Tory Burch) have built businesses around the concept of offering high style at not-so-high prices. Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom have both recently devoted more floor space to the category, which has broadened its appeal beyond twentysomethings thanks in no small part to celebrity exposure in glossy weekly magazines.

When it comes to accessories in the contemporary category, Rebecca Minkoff has been a major success story. In just six years, she has built a name for handbags that ring up at less than $500, including the bestselling $195 Morning After Clutch, which has attracted celebrity fans with far-reaching personal styles, including Reese Witherspoon, Agnes Deyn and Lauren Conrad. MAC_black

"I can't deny the power of celebrity," said Minkoff, digging into a plate of eggs Benedict at BLD in Los Angeles recently. "But we are also a customer-driven brand."

The New York-based Minkoff was in town to celebrate her new shop-in-shop at Confederacy in Los Feliz. We sat down for a few minutes to discuss her career, including several milestones involving L.A.

A San Diego native, Minkoff moved to New York in the early 2000s, and started designing an eponymous, self-described "DIY-style" clothing line, with pieces such as an "I Love NY" T-shirt that made it into the pages of US Weekly. In 2004, her first runway show was taped as a plotline for the TV shows "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills." And by 2005, Jenna Elfman was such a fan, she asked for a one-off handbag to wear as part of her costume for the film "Touched."

Minkoff was up to the task. She created the Morning After Bag -- a simple, structured satchel -- in just 10 days, despite having never made a bag before. It was designed to be small enough to carry during a night on the town, but big enough to hold a change of clothes. And it was in keeping with Minkoff's own fashionable sense of practicality. (Rare is the handbag designer who admits to having only three handbags in rotation in her wardrobe.)

Mab_mini_blood_red_front_2 As luck would have it, the bag didn't make it into the film. But Minkoff started carrying it herself, and people took notice. Ilaria Urbinati, a former contributor to DailyCandy.com, and now co-owner of Confederacy, wrote about the bag for the style blog, and the rest is history.

Minkoff's first retail account was L.A.'s Satine. Each Morning After Bag came with a calling card inside, featuring a photo of a handsome man and a phone number. If you called the number, you would reach a sexy voice mail recording. The response to the collection was so immense, that Minkoff took a break from clothing to focus solely on accessories.

Since then, growth has been rapid. During her first year, she had just 20 retail stores. Now she has more than 500, including accounts in Europe, Asia and Mexico. Last season, at the request of Saks Fifth Avenue, Minkoff introduced a Collection line of higher-end pieces, priced from $595 to $2,000, which allows her to dabble in exotic skins and leathers.

Last year, she reintroduced clothing (leather jackets, chiffon maxiskirts, tailored blazers, leggings and faux fur vests with a downtown edge) and debuted shoes for the first time. And in September, she'll show the full collection at New York Fashion Week.

Part of the appeal of the Minkoff brand is that it is logo-free, and she wants to keep it that way. "I'm not a big logo person. I never even owned another designer's bag," she said, adding that she was devoted to vintage bags before designing her own. "I appreciate that women aren't buying my bags for the real estate, they are buying them because they like them." 

-- Booth Moore

Top photo: Rebecca Minkoff shop-in-shop at Los Feliz's Confederacy. Credit: Rebecca Minkoff

Middle photo: Morning After Clutch. Credit: Rebecca Minkoff

Bottom photo: Morning After Bag. Credit: Rebecca Minkoff

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