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Custom cowboy boot maker moving into new products

November 25, 1997

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Lucchese, the 115-year old western boot company that counts Michael Jordan, Barbra Streisand, Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Clinton among its clients, is branching out.

Known almost exclusively for its cowboy boots since Sam Lucchese came to San Antonio from Italy and began making boots for cavalry members in 1883, Lucchese is introducing a new collection of footwear, jewelry, small leather goods, luggage and accessories.

``We’ve been known as a boot company and now we are attempting to become an American heritage company,″ said Ira Clark, Lucchese’s director of retail.

By expanding its product line, Lucchese hopes to attract younger customers and provide an American rival to leather luxury goods makers like France’s Louis Vuitton.

``If you don’t change the company as it gets older, customers die off and the company gets smaller,″ Clark said.

Racks of cowboy boots handcrafted in El Paso from exotic hides like anteater, kangaroo and sting ray still dominate Lucchese’s store (priced from $350 to $5,000). But it’s the display cases featuring sterling silver bracelets, necklaces and earrings ranging from $105 to $2,800 that greet customers at the new Lucchese store in San Antonio, the company’s only retail store outside of Santa Fe.

Other new lines feature purses, briefcases, shoulder bags, suitcases, shaving kits, organizer books, checkbook cases and wallets.

``It’s beautiful and so different,″ said Viola Garcia, who said she spent two years looking for a new wallet before finding the perfect one for $295. ``With so many other wallets, the handle will come undone or it will fall apart. I know for sure this one is not going to do that.″

Lucchese isn’t alone in its attempts to diversify. Nine West, one of the nation’s leading shoe makers, now has sunglasses and pocketbooks along with its core shoe line.

``Companies such as Lucchese and Nine West basically are extremely well known brands, and they are trying to leverage their name and reputation and their presence wherever their articles have a market,″ said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard’s Retail Trend Report in Scotch Plains, N.J.

He said the move is logical for Nine West, because women shopping for shoes are also interested in buying accessories.

Lucchese, he said, faces ``a somewhat more difficult challenge″ because it needs a large market for items that are clearly not related to cowboy boots.

Lucchese officials say they are in no way abandoning cowboy boots. Still, a new footwear line includes alligator skin loafers and golf shoes for men in the $695 range.

``Maybe it will work,″ Barnard said, ``but is Lucchese sufficiently known outside the boot market to support a major entry into an accessory market? That is the question that has to be answered.″

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