croc-embossed clutch Mark Cross

You can easily picture Grace Kelly carrying this croc-embossed clutch. It also has a hidden chain strap. Photo courtesy of Mark Cross

Welcome back, Mark Cross! The American heritage leather goods brand is resurrecting in time for the holidays through an exclusive partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. StyleList got a sneak peek.

The line will launch with 11 handbag styles, all polished, unfussy and steeped in the company's history -- the purse equivalent of the perfect trenchcoat.

If the name leaves you scratching your head, grab a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "Tender Is the Night" or roll Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "Rear Window."

Fitzgerald's characters echo one of the Lost Generation's golden couples: Gerald and Sara Murphy. Gerald's family ran Mark Cross, a leading luxury leather goods maker since the 1880s. When Gerald took over the company in 1934, he burnished the company's reputation for elegance by spinning out luggage, cigarette cases and jeweled evening bags.

In the Hitchcock flick, meanwhile, iconic beauty Grace Kelly ravishingly shows Jimmy Stewart what can fit into a Mark Cross overnight case. The case epitomizes the brand's look: understated and sophisticated, yet still practical.

After some tumultuous years, the company closed in 1997. But it found a champion in new CEO and president Neal J. Fox.

Fox admired the brand for its workmanship and timeless style. "It was America's Hermès, America's Gucci," he asserts. Elizabeth Taylor once snapped up 70 pieces of matched Mark Cross luggage for herself and Richard Burton.

"I really became enamored of the brand," Fox recalls. After it shut down, he and a partner scooped up the trademark. The bags are now produced in the Pacific Rim, using French and Italian leathers.

Murphy bags Mark Cross

These Murphy bags balance the practical (removable shoulder straps) with the posh (18 karat gold-plated hardware). Photo courtesy of Mark Cross

Despite the lacklustre economy, this relaunch seems well-timed. Legacy brands from Woolrich to Liberty are winning a new generation of fans, as customers gravitate to well-crafted items with rich backstories.

Fox also kept prices relatively moderate. "It needs to be an affordable luxury, a sweet spot for the potential customer from 18 onward," he told StyleList. "We're filling a niche, a void in the marketplace."

Gerald buckle bags Mark Cross

The Gerald buckle bags with saddle leather trim nod to the company's roots in saddle- and bridle-making. Photo courtesy of Mark Cross

Purses will cost from $465 to $795. These numbers are not so different from Mark Cross price tags in the mid-1990s. Adjusting for inflation, you could consider them something of a bargain.

Since the Mark Cross archive was patchy, Fox's design team balanced past innovations and current styles. "It forced us to stretch our imagination, to update history in the proper way," explains one designer. (Fox keeps his team anonymous for now.)

The toffee-brown Beaumont shoulder bag is one tempting example. The silhouette came from the Mark Cross archives, as did the signature combination of pebbled and smooth leathers. The sturdy micro-twill lining and inner pockets, though, are primed for modern use.

Gerald himself has a namesake in a two-tone buckle tote, based on one of his own favorite bags, and a retro-cool navy camera bag.

The chicest of the lot is the brown, croc-embossed Maddox clutch. The front clasp fits like puzzle pieces, a plump crescent over a button. A water-based stain gives it a deep rich color. In future collections, expect this style in other snazzy shades.

The first deliveries hit Saks in mid-November, with the full collection available by early December. Later 2011 collections may be sold elsewhere, but for now, Saks stores will be the only source.

For news on another recent relaunch based on the power of the purse, read the latest on Paco Rabanne.