Luxury handbag brand Mark Cross has been around for nearly 175 years. Over its history, the company has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but today the brand is trying to cement itself as the go-to luxury handbag company in the U.S. To do that, Mark Cross is getting back into physical retail, and moving into resale.
Mark Cross’ multi-pronged comeback plan comes at a potentially challenging time in U.S. retail. For one, big brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Henri Bendel have shuttered flagship stores left and right — especially along 5th Avenue. It’s also a time when newer luxury brands such as Zac Posen have struggled to keep up with luxury conglomerates.
Back in the late 1990s, Mark Cross had as many as 23 stores open in the U.S. Those all eventually closed, when then-owner Sara Lee Corporation shut the company down in 1997. The company relaunched in the spring of 2010 with a focus on wholesale partners. However, under new CEO and president Ulrik Garde Due, who joined the company late last year, the brand is focusing on a familiar retail experience.
Mark Cross plans to use its New York City flagship as a testing ground for future stores. It’s being careful not to play too much into its history. For those unfamiliar with the brand, it saw fame after Grace Kelly was seen carrying a Mark Cross evening bag in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Rear Window.”
“We want to be careful not to go too much into a historical context, and look forward. We have video playing on the back wall of the store that really merges some historical images [of Grace Kelly], but also shows some great, cool girls using the Mark Cross product in the context of today,” said Garde Due. Those “cool girls” include celebrities like Rihanna and Taylor Swift, who have discovered the brand in recent years.
In the coming years, customers will likely see more Mark Cross stores pop up across the U.S., in key European cities and in Japan, but the brand declined to share specifics.
Additionally, the Madison Avenue flagship is connected to natural beauty and wellness brand Naturopathica — a sliding door separates the two spaces. Customers can come in and shop, get a bag personalized and then get a beauty treatment next door while they wait. The convenience here is part of the luxury experience Mark Cross is hoping to offer.
“If consumers are putting in the investment, they will demand an easy, pleasant experience pre and post-purchase, regardless of where they begin and end they purchase journey,” said Alexis DeSalva, senior research analyst at Mintel.
A recent survey from research firm Mintel found 73% of millennials shoppers and 67% of Gen Z shoppers do a mix of online and in-store shopping when making a purchase, with the majority of luxury customers visiting a physical store before making a purchase.
Garde Due said it doesn’t matter whether the customer buys online or in the physical store. Having a physical presence where customers can engage with the brand will be key to winning over that younger customer.
“We need to control our brand. While we are working continuously with wonderful wholesale partners, we believe that to service the customer in an appropriate way and gather customer data that we need to build a strong community around Mark Cross brand, we need to own both on and offline channels,” Garde Due said.
“Heritage brands need to prove their evolution to younger consumers by meeting them where they are and re-thinking the meaning of value today,” said DeSalva.
The way Mark Cross hopes to do this is also through its own resale platform — which launches in December — is a first for a luxury handbag brand. At a time when many resale platforms like The RealReal are dealing with authentication issues, with premiere partners like Chanel, Garde Due said the brand wanted to take control of that process by bringing resale in-house. Customers can sell back vintage products, as well as buy from Mark Cross’ growing collection of vintage.
“We as the brand can fairly easily say whether a product is authentic or not, and also put a fair value to it,” Garde Due said. “Secondly, we are getting quite a few people contacting us who would also like to repair vintage products. That’s another service we want to offer our customers. We are not a short-term fashionable accessory company. If you buy a Mark Cross, the product is timeless.”