Saks Ups the Ante on Luxury Handbag Wars with Reinvented Main Floor

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The luxury handbag retail wars are heating up. 

By Lauren Parker

Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship shoe department already has its own zip code (10022-SHOE), but a mega main floor revamp has the retailer vying for the city’s main luxury handbag destination too. The timing is no accident, as Neiman Marcus opens its first Manhattan location in Hudson Yards this Spring, and Nordstrom alights on Columbus Circle this Fall.  Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman are already rooted firmly near Saks (even if they don’t boast Sak’s new Philippe Starck-designed French restaurant L’Avenue, the first outside of Paris).

Cue the luxury handbag wars.

 As part of Saks’ flagship’s $250 million grand renovation, the 53,000-square-foot main floor has tripled its handbag department selling space, and, in a bold department store move, bumped beauty up a level to the second floor. Now, the main floor features solely luxury handbags, leather goods, travel and soft accessories, underscoring its total commitment to this important designer category. In total, there are more than 50 handbag brands —14 of which are new to the store (Anya Hindmarch, Bottega Veneta, BOYY, Celine, Danse Lente, Hunting, Manu Atelier, Moynat, Nancy Gonzalez, Off White, Pop & Suki, Salvatore Ferragamo, Susan Alexandra, The Row). Saks also worked closely with design partners to create over 100 handbag exclusives to celebrate the launch. While the designer bags will run three, four and even five digits for exotic skins, opening price point is $45 for a Saks tote.

 Designer exclusives—either as a brand entirety or specially created items—are a growing part of any retailer’s mix, positioning the department as a destination zone and creating urgency with limited editions. Bloomingdale’s, for example, has seen success with its 100% Bloomingdale’s program, much of which is handbags, and consumers can expect more across all retailers.

 While non-designer fashion handbags have struggled in recent years, luxury handbags have fared much better. According to consumer tracking agency NPD Group, designer handbags experienced double-digit growth for the second year in a row, buoyed by Gucci, YSL, Chanel, Valentino and Balenciaga, all of which are stretching to the non-designer customer. “In many cases, Millennials are saving and striving for designer bags, looking at them as investment purchases and buying the more accessible pieces as a point of entry into the designer world,” said Beth Goldstein, NPD’s Executive Director, Industry Analyst for Fashion Accessories at Footwear.  Goldstein also remarked how some designer brands have become more inclusive, dropping their snob appeal to welcome more tiers of consumers. Gucci’s recently opened store in Soho is one example, encouraging consumers to browse, hang out and discover the brand in a friendly atmosphere. There’s even a Gucci bookstore.

Saks Fifth Avenue exclusives, clockwise from top left: A Balenciaga exclusive for the Saks flagship puts consumers in a New York state of mind; a Strathberry colorblocked bag, Proenza Schouler tie-die and Miu Miu textured metallic.

Saks Fifth Avenue exclusives, clockwise from top left: A Balenciaga exclusive for the Saks flagship puts consumers in a New York state of mind; a Strathberry colorblocked bag, Proenza Schouler tie-die and Miu Miu textured metallic.


 As with all successful retailing today, the merchandise experience needs to go beyond product to make an impression, get buzz and get photographed on Instagram. The Saks handbag floor hits these points with an eye-catching and colorfully transparent escalator designed by OMA/Rem Koolhaas, which connects to the recently renovated Beauty floor on 2. Later this year, it will also connect to the Vault, the high-end jewelry area on the Lower Level opening later this year.

 “We have created a luxury handbag shopping experience unlike any other in New York City -- the new main floor at Saks Fifth Avenue offers an unprecedented assortment and world-class service,” said Tracy Margolies, Chief Merchant, Saks Fifth Avenue. “The size and scale of the new main floor enables us to showcase the best handbag and accessory designers in the world, demonstrating Saks Fifth Avenue's strong fashion point of view.”

 The full handbag matrix now includes: Akris, Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Anya Hindmarch, Attico, ALAÏA, Balenciaga, Bao Bao Issey Miyake, Bottega Veneta, BOYY, Burberry, Carolina Santo Domingo, Celine, CHANEL, Chloé, Christian Louboutin, Coach, Cult Gaia, Danse Lente, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Edie Parker, Fendi, Givenchy, Gucci, Hunting Season, J.W. Anderson, Jimmy Choo, Judith Leiber, Loewe, Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, MANU Atelier, Marc Jacobs, Mark Cross, MCM, Miu Miu, Moynat, MZ Wallace, Nancy Gonzalez, Off-White, Pop & Suki, Prada, Proenza Schouler, Rebecca Minkoff, Rimowa, Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo, STAUD, Stella McCartney, Strathberry, Susan Alexandra, The Row, Valentino

 Additional brand highlights include Chanel’s largest handbag shop in a multi-brand retailer in North America, Moynat’s first iconic space in a multi-brand retailer. And for the tourists there’s the launch of Saks SVNR (pronounced souvenir), including novelty totes, keychains, hats, umbrellas, belts, books, pins, postcards and more inspired by New York City.

 To stand apart from its retail competitors, Saks is upping the experiential element, with in-store and online personalization events plus year-round customization from select brands like monogramming, embossing, hand stamping, artwork, graffiti and more.

 “The opening of our reimagined main floor is another milestone in our Grand Renovation that offers our customers a modern and expansive experience the moment they walk through the doors,” said Marc Metrick, President, Saks Fifth Avenue. “The new handbag floor reinforces Saks’ position as a fashion authority with an exceptional offering. Seamless access between our dominant handbag presentation, revolutionary beauty experience on the second floor, and the upcoming Vault on the lower level reinforces our New York City flagship as a one-of-a-kind luxury destination with unparalleled service and merchandise.”

Noor Nanda