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Getting a handle on cutlery.

CHICAGO -- The recent International Home & Housewares Show here served up a variety of handle treatments in cutlery, but when it comes to the actual sale, retailers say form trumps fashion every time.

Once you get past the blade composition and construction of a knife, there's not much else you can do to differentiate the tool other than vary the shape and appearance of the handle. An array of options was offered at the show, from the traditional wood handle to easy-grip materials to more fashion-oriented colored handles.

Wusthof introduced Classic Ikon, a triple-riveted full-tang knife made unique through a double bolster, at the top and the bottom of the handle. While a special wood-handled version is exclusive to Williams-Sonoma (along with a special pink-handled edition to benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation), a polymer-handled version is available to the general market.

Lifetime Brands offered several colorful handle choices across its many cutlery brands. It introduced a set of Sabatier steak knives featuring an acrylic, marbleized handle, as well as block sets with acrylic handles in a variety of colors. Lifetime also created a color story in its Farberware division, with soft-grip handles in orange, gray, teal and a host of other hues. A new Asian line under the KitchenAid brand has an ABS handle that looks like bamboo.

Furi, whose orange-handled Gusto Grip series stands out on retail floors, introduced the Froggy, a mezzaluna with a bright green grip.

Messermeister, Shun and Henckels stuck with their tried-and-true shapes. Arcos, a Spanish manufacturer trying to break into the American market, is developing different knives geared toward men and women. Chicago Cutlery, which featured its Onyx Forged series, whose handles are crafted of stainless steel and black polymer for comfort and and its Walnut Forged line, whose handles are made from walnut and stainless, is experimenting with unusual metallic treatments for its handles.

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Lamson & Goodnow made a fashion statement with its new Fire line, a red swirled acrylic-handled line that includes about 10 items. The forged pieces are made in the United States from German steel; and full-tang and triple-riveted with a traditional rattail design.

Lamson's new look made Jennifer Baron, owner of a Cook's Companion in Brooklyn, N.Y., "want to weep" over its beauty.

"It was totally cool," she said. And even though she has plenty of her own personal knives, she wanted this one, too. Nonetheless, she always encourages her customers to buy what feels most comfortable in the hand. She also keeps maintenance issues in mind: Wood-handled cutlery should not go in the dishwasher, which is where most consumers are most likely to put it. "I don't carry any wood handles anymore" for that reason, she said.

"Best sellers continue to be the terribly traditional, three-riveted handles," Baron said. "You would think that in Brooklyn we would be more trendy, but we're not."

Rhoda Dillman, who owns the Freeport Knife Co., a retail store in Freeport, Maine, with her husband, Douglas Dillman, agreed with Baron in that function is more important than a fashionable knife handle.

"Handles mean a lot to the job you are doing" and the size of the user's hand, she said. Professional chefs tend to prefer round handles because they are more comfortable to hold over long periods of time. Non-slip handles are practical. Triple-riveted knives remain popular with consumers: "Some people are very traditional with the look of that knife."

Like Baron, Dillman advises against wooden handles because they are not dishwasher-safe. Otherwise, some consumers prefer black handles over wood for more modern kitchens.

Dillman has no problem with differentiation in the marketplace through new handle options. "As long as it's a quality product and it is comfortable, the customer buys it," she said.
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Title Annotation:the markets: housewares
Author:Zisko, Allison
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Apr 2, 2007
Words:627
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