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NELLY & JUDITH LEIBER: AN UNLIKELY PAIR

 

Guess who’s toting the latest crystal-studded bag by evening bag designer Judith Leiber?  Give up?  Try Nelly.   

 

It's a strange pairing.  But after the St. Louis rapper gave a shout-out to Leiber in last summer's hit single "Flap Your Wings," the New York-based accessory firm felt it was only proper to thank Nelly for the free publicity with a custom royal blue alligator-and-crystals PDA case for his ever-present Sidekick.

 

With at least a cool million in diamonds in his repertoire, Nelly knows a good thing when he sees it.  Before long, Nelly's people were rapping to Leiber's people about collaboration. Judith Leiber creative director Frank Zambrelli, knowing that "the hip-hop community appreciates luxury in general and spends on it," thought this seemingly odd coupling made good business sense.

 

"We had just begun what I call the reinvigoration of the brand," says Zambrelli, 39, who joined the company last year and has made it his mission to modernize the company's iconic accessory line. "The music business now is filled with a lot of young, talented people who appreciate luxury," Zambrelli says. "In a world full of aspirational luxury, this is the real thing."

 

Zambrelli and the rapper himself spent two months designing the items via e-mail, telephones and SMS text messages.

 

Fans can roll like Nelly with an oversized $2,645 belt buckle crafted from sterling silver covered in hand-set crystal stones. ("Nelly likes his buckles big," says Zambrelli, "as do most guys these days. It's a bold statement; it's not for the shy.") Or they can travel first-class with a $3,395 Cornell Jet Bag fashioned from calf suede with python handles and trim. A duplicate of Nelly's Sidekick case will set you back $950 (unless you want diamonds for $9,500). There are also reptile-skin cuffs with pavé crystal snaps that cost $100 to $150. The limited-edition collection will be available from September through December at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores, or by calling Judith Leiber at 866-542-7167.  A portion of these limited-edition items' purchase price benefits 4Sho 4Kids.

 

Watch for this mainstream moneyed brand to make its way into the hands and arms of more hip-hop stars soon, thanks to Leiber's recent hook-ups with major Hollywood and music industry stylists. But there's nothing like an ad to keep merchandise top-of-mind. This month, glossies like In Style and Vanity Fair will introduce a Judith Leiber print campaign starring the rapper, socialite Ivana Trump and actress Nia Long (a Nelly pal and 4Sho 4Kids supporter) showcasing the Nelly-designed items.

 

Says Zambrelli: "These are not three names you hear together on a regular basis, but it celebrates the diversity of the brand."



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