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Women’s accessories brand Kipling has cranked up its cool quotient with some new fashion-forward styles.

Belgian bag brand Kipling has come of age in more ways than one. The company, which started life in Antwerp making backpacks for school kids, celebrates its 21st birthday in 2008, and with its latest collections it has shown there is much more to the brand than casual nylon luggage.

Its signature crinkled nylon Basic range still forms the backbone of its offer (about 900 of the 1,400 SKUs produced each season are Basic), but since the arrival of vice president for production and marketing Isabelle Cheron from luxury brand Celine two years ago, several new collections have been added to its offer. Cheron, whose CV also includes time at Cerruti and a stint as an accessories buyer, realised there was great potential in its unique point of view, brand recognition and reasonable pricing.

“I tried to capitalise on the key elements of cool, casual and unpretentious, and I thought about the modern, active woman; most women have more than one life. But you can be all that and fashionable at the same time,” she explains.

In her first season, for spring 07, Cheron launched the more fashion-forward Hip range, which features metallic nylons, silver hardware and the distinctive Kipling monkey key chain in shiny silver, as opposed to the furry gorilla that is used on the Basic line. The Katie tote, which is part of the Hip collection, is now a worldwide bestseller.

Several other ranges followed, including City, which is aimed at working women and features minimally-styled grips, cross-overs and totes with nylon bodies and yet another take on the monkey key chain. At the other end of the spectrum, G*rilla Girlz targets teens with its casual styling and vibrant prints.

Cheron also branched out from nylon and into leather with Club, a more formal range, and most recently Vintage Leather, which has a distinct rock chic feel with chunky zips and chain straps. It was launched in grey, brown and black for spring 08 and the palette has been extended for autumn 08 to include camel, wine, dark brown and green.

At its twice-yearly preview for its worldwide distributors, held in Berlin before Christmas, Kipling showed the Hip range in a patent synthetic fabric as well as bright new velvet prints, which Cheron is predicting will become bestsellers for autumn 08.

As well as its two standalone stores in London, Kipling has 220 wholesale accounts in the UK, totalling 430 doors, and counts Selfridges, Harrods and John Lewis as customers. UK and Republic of Ireland manager Pauline Meagher says she expects the new ranges to broaden Kipling’s appeal and will be selling the brand by collection rather than by individual pieces. “If you don’t buy a collection, there’s no story. We will direct retailers to the right collection for them,” she says.

There are three phases each season, and prices vary according to the collection. Hip starts at £8, rising to £36 for a larger bag.

Kipling 020 7299 9090

Number of countries in which Kipling is sold
17: Number of Kipling standalone stores worldwide
1,400: Number of SKUs produced each season, ranging from coin purses to suitcases

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