With awards season underway, there will nary be an actress without a small box clutch in her hand on any of the red carpets to come. New York-based brand, Edie Parker, is to thank for almost all of those bags, and that is hardly an exaggeration. Founded in 2010 by designer Brett Heyman, the Edie Parker brand – which has been titled, the “Go-To Red Carpet Clutch” by more than one publication – was inspired by acrylic bags made in America in the 1950s and 1960s. Unable to locate many of the classic bags for herself, Heyman launched her own collection of them, and they became something of an instant hit within the fashion industry and in Hollywood.
Priced at anywhere between $895 and $2,000+ (although it is safe to say no shortage of them are gifted or lent to fashion and Hollywood “it” girls), the bags have been spotted in the hands of just about everyone from Cher, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift, to Kerry Washington, Kate Hudson, and Sarah Paulson, to Hillary Clinton campaign vice chair Huma Abedin, to Stranger Things’ 12-year old star Millie Bobby Brown. And that is really just a quick snapshot.
Making a Monopoly
How exactly did Heyman manage to win over an entire industry, you ask? Well, there are a few easily identifiable elements. First, she launched her brand armed with top-notch public relations experience and connections, and while she lacks formal design training and experience, she has made up for it with a deep understanding of the market in which she operates.
As Forbes noted last year, “Brett attributes Edie Parker’s break into major retailers to luck, but her fashion background had prepared her with insider connections.” Of the brand’s early success, Heyman says: “Many of the people I had worked with at Gucci for so many years had moved to Barneys. They were very supportive and picked up the line my first season. Luckily Bergdorf Goodman followed shortly after.”
Career-making press opportunities also followed. There was a Vogue article that coincided with the brand’s launch (and subsequent articles in just about every magazine/publication you can think of). And there were the many highly-influential street-style stars (some of which are friends of Heyman’s) – including Eva Chen, Chiara Ferragna, Anna Dello Russo (who has been labeled “fashion’s most photographed woman), the ManRepeller’s Leandra Medine, Alexa Chung, and W’s Giovanna Battaglia – toting customized bags (certainly a PR trick of the trade). These instances created “awareness that was invaluable and created customers almost immediately.”
Outside of connections (which are not always helpful if the product does not deliver, so to speak), Heyman has experience to boot. “I oversaw accessories for many years while doing Public Relations at both Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana,” Heyman said. “I had a great familiarity with the accessory market and thought evening bags were an afterthought. They were usually a miniature version of a bestselling ‘It’ bag, or heavily ornamented and serious.” From that she garnered, “Nobody focused on evening as a product category, aside from a heritage brand like Judith Leiber.”
Heyman also has an extremely concentrated eye – bags, just bags – and a clear aesthetic. Identifying a niche and pushing that forth and making a name before expanding further worked in Heyman’s favor. Aiming to launch too large a brand from the get-go has been a downfall for many brands, particularly in the current market where emerging designers are commonly tempted to consistently do more because they are oftentimes expected to be a full-fledged lifestyle brand right out of the gates.
With this in mind, Edie Parker only recently expanded beyond its trademark acrylic box bags to other bag styles, and to some home goods, phone cases and charms. The rationale behind this tactic is something Heyman says she learned from Domenico De Sole, chairman of Tom Ford International and former president and CEO of Gucci Group: “When defining style, the only thing that matters is a very clear and precise aesthetic, that’s something Domenico De Sole once said and I loved this idea.”
She also has the fashion industry on her side. As industry insiders will know, the power wielded by New York-based designer trade group, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”), can – at least, in theory – make or break a budding young brand. With this in mind, being named a finalist for the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, an annual emerging design initiative underwritten by Coach, J. Crew, IMG, Kate Spade, Nordstrom, MAC, Rag & Bone, Theory, Tiffany & Co., and Amazon Fashion, is no small matter. Former Fashion Fund winners and finalists, such as Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, Joseph Altuzarra, and Billy Reid, among others, have gone on to develop very viable businesses.
The Budding Market for Copies
A testament to the success of the Edie Parker designs, aside from their near-constant – if not completely constant – red carpet presence? The number of copies that are beginning to saturate the market. Two relatively recent lawsuits filed by Heyman are indicative of the rampant Edie Parker copying. One, against fellow handbag company the Box Bag and its agent, Beth Smolen, settled out of court prior to trial; another, against Milly by Michelle Smith settled out of court this month.
While the box is not novel (Heyman herself says she was inspired by vintage bags she already owned), the lawsuits claim that Edie Parker bags bring something new to the table. The novelty of the Edie Parker designs – which as of now is protected only by way of common law (and not federal) trade dress – centers on the exact shape and dimensions of the bags themselves, as well as copyright-specific claims for the designs that appear on the bags.
While lookalike bags are proving tedious for Heyman – at least in terms of litigation – the nostalgic aspect to them might be one of the brand’s biggest strengths. Besides their craftsmanship, the clutches have struck a chord, Heyman says, because of the nostalgia they inspire. “People will say, ‘Oh, my mom had a bag like that’ or ‘My grandma had a bag like that,’” she says of her pieces, which also feature mirrored interiors. “It adds to the timelessness because people recognize it.”
Now, see if you recognize any on this season’s red carpets.