Luxury is back: Brown Thomas handbags sales at record highs
Brown Thomas is selling more luxury handbags than it did during the boom in another sign that the economy is improving for some parts of society while the weak euro is drawing trade from abroad.
"The luxury accessory business now is bigger today in cash terms than it was in 2007 in this store," general manager Stephen Sealy told the Irish Independent this week.
Mr Sealy acknowledges that the upward climb in sales "is partly because we've invested and given it the space".
However, the decision by luxury brands such as Bottega Veneta, Celine and the Prada group to invest in their own boutiques within the Grafton Street store speaks volumes about where handbags sit on the Irish spreadsheet.
In March top French brands, Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton will go ahead with an expansion of their stores within the 'French quarter' of the Grafton Street store in order to acquire more retail space to expand their offerings.
Sales of luxury bags and accessories have been "one of the more resilient sectors but when you invest like this, and open up the space, you turn on the growth a lot more", Mr Sealy said.
At the store's spring-summer fashion show last week, Shelly Corkery, fashion director at Brown Thomas, said there was growing rising interest in designer handbags. "We could see the growth, and when you see the growth, you have to expand with the brand," Ms Corkery said. "Three years ago, when the economy was very difficult, we had the vision and actually made the decision to go ahead, knowing that a new accessories and beauty hall on the ground floor would cost €9m-€10m.
"We went out to the brands and got them all to buy in and commit and they had the confidence to invest in our store, it's a wonderful partnership," she said.
Rising sales of luxury bags is not solely about the designer cachet - price is a major factor too.
"We have a lot of people from the North coming down because with the exchange rate as it is, it's very favourable for them to buy here, much cheaper than buying in London," said Mr Sealy.
"The UK actually use bigger mark-ups than we do. When we went into the euro, it was clear to us that our prices had to match Paris prices and Paris uses a lower mark-up than the UK so you get the exchange rate swings and when the euro is weak, it's a good exchange rate for UK and Northern Ireland customers.
"Prices across Europe are pretty much level, there are small variations due to VAT but I mean the people who are really interested in buying - our Asian customers and so on - they have to pay higher prices in part due to luxury taxes so we are very attractive to them."