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Pippa bags Chennai orders

- Surrey firm claims boom after gift to royal relative

London, Jan. 13: A Chennai factory is working round the clock with 100 extra staff to meet furious demand for a handbag endorsed unofficially by Pippa Middleton, younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, it was reported today.

Workers at the factory may be intrigued to learn that the handbag, known as the Modalu, is sold for 195 (Rs17,250) by a company in Surrey.

Pippa is two years younger than Kate, who has just celebrated her 31st birthday and is expecting a spring baby. The sisters have become Britain’s premier style icons ever since Kate married Prince William in Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, with the cameras focusing in particular on Pippa’s figure-hugging outfit.

What is remarkable is that Pippa is not the brand ambassador for the Modalu nor does she have any kind of formal arrangement with the Surrey company.

“All it had to do to secure countless photographs of its product across the media was send her four freebies, custom-made in tan, mock croc, black and oyster, each with her name discreetly embossed on the back,” the Mail on Sunday reported today. “Miss Middleton was so delighted with her gifts that she is believed to have sent a handwritten note as a thank you,” it added.

The fashion market in Britain is driven by impressionable women who rush out and buy anything they see “celebrities” wear on television. Pippa is not a royal but she has certainly done well financially through being the sister of the future queen of England.

Modalu’s managing director Mike Hiscock, 49, revealed it had been necessary to build new premises at the factory in Chennai from where the handbags are manufactured. It now employs 250 people, 100 dedicated to the Pippa range. But Hiscock did not name the Chennai factory.

Hiscock said: “I’ve been in the business for 25 years and I’ve not seen anything like the explosion that Pippa carrying our bag had on the market. Within 24 hours, our switchboards were jammed with people wanting to know where they could get their hands on one. Sales went up from 10,000 a month to 500,000.”

The company is not shy about using the Pippa Factor to sell its products. She is pictured with the bags on its website, which boasts: “Pippa Middleton has a number of different colours of our bestselling Pippa bag.”

Such is the success that the company has expanded its Pippa range to include 159 shoulder bags, 75 wristlets and 69 wallets, which sold out over Christmas.

“The whole Modalu brand is now anticipated to have an annual turnover of 11 million, compared with 1 million before the royal wedding,” Hiscock boasted.

“Frankly, we could not have bought the kind of publicity she’s given us,” Hiscock enthused. “It was because she liked the product. We’ve not paid her a penny to endorse it, but sent her four custom-made versions. Obviously we would love to have her as a brand ambassador, but no approach has been made because of her royal connection.”

He added that they had not sent any bags to Kate or her mother.

Pippa’s mother, Carole, apparently shares clothes with her younger daughter but has a Modalu handbag of her own. Carole was pictured with her own bag when she attended the unveiling of Kate’s first official portrait last week.

Pippa was first spotted with a shark-coloured Modalu bag when she emerged from a hotel the morning after her sister’s wedding and interest boomed. At Wimbledon last summer, she showed off a classic tan Modalu.

Lucy Rome, brand manager, said: “We had interest from around the world, but particularly from America. We just couldn’t make them fast enough. For a while there was a huge waiting list for the shark and tan version. Our factory had to work round the clock to produce enough. We renamed it the Pippa because that’s what people started to ask for.”

In having a handbag named after her, Pippa joins an elite club of timeless style icons that includes Jane Birkin, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo and Alexa Chung.

So how good is the Modalu?

At 195, it is modestly priced, certainly when compared with designer handbags from such brands as Gucci, Prada and Burberry.