Kate Spade's death saddens Singapore fans but will have little impact on the brand here

The Kate Spade logo is seen on a Madison Avenue storefront in New York City. The brand has seven specialty stores and one outlet in Singapore.
The Kate Spade logo is seen on a Madison Avenue storefront in New York City. The brand has seven specialty stores and one outlet in Singapore.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

SINGAPORE - Ms Beatrice Desiree Miranda, 21, got her first Kate Spade bag from her parents on her 18th birthday, and thinks of it as "the first bag that marked the start of my adulthood". It is her go-to bag for formal events.

"The Kate Spade brand was classy enough yet not too flashy for a person my age,'' adds the Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduate.

Miss Miranda and the world woke up on Wednesday (June 6) to the news of fashion designer and businesswoman Kate Spade's death on Tuesday, a bleak contrast to the bright colours and cheery prints of her line of handbags. She was 55.

She founded the Kate Spade Handbags brand in 1993 with Mr Andy Spade, who later became her husband, with the idea of creating the perfect handbag.

The handbags were soon seen by many as a symbol of transitioning into young adulthood.

Says Ms Sharon Lim, 51, a strategic content director at The Ate Group agency, a strategic marketing, brand direction and communications agency: "A Kate Spade handbag was a coming-of-age fashion item for young women, especially Americans and 'office ladies' in Asia, in the 1990s and 2000s."

She remembers her first Kate Spade bag, which she carried for years. "It was a medium-size structured tote in black-on-black nylon monogram that was the perfect size for all my stuff, including an umbrella. I also used it as a lunch bag, as I could fit a lunchbox, snacks and fruits in it. My friends laughed at me, of course, but I thought I was so chic,'' adds Ms Lim, who was a former editor-in-chief of Elle Singapore magazine.

Kate Spade enthusiasts like her have a choice of seven specialty stores and one outlet in Singapore. The biggest standalone boutique opened at Ion Orchard in 2012.

 
 

Retail experts and Kate Spade bag lovers interviewed by The Straits Times do not think the founder's death will have much impact on the brand here.

"Fashion brands named for people, like Gucci, Armani, Versace and Kate Spade are often imbued with the personality of the creator," says Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at SMU. "However, over time, if the brands are successful, they outlive the association, acquiring their own clear distinctive positioning, even as the original creator has either become older, or has transformed his or her own lifestyle, or even passed on. And Kate Spade the brand seems to have crossed that threshold a while ago."

Indeed, the Spades had sold the brand in 2006 to American luxury department store operator Neiman Marcus. It was then sold it to Liz Claiborne shortly after.

The brand is now owned by Coach parent company Tapestry, which purchased it along with the rest of Liz Claiborne for US$2.4 billion in 2017.

But the youthful and affordable brand has kept the vibrant Kate Spade spirit.

"Even though she hasn't been with the company for more than a decade, the brand still stays true to their aesthetic, which I enjoy,'' says Ms Isabella Hu, 21, an SMU undergraduate who owns two Kate Spade bags and two wallets.

She adds: "I guess it felt surprising that someone who could design such a brightly themed brand could have suicidal thoughts, and my heart goes out to her and all others suffering in silence.

"I think it'll be a reminder that people like Kate, who seem to live a glamorous life, also have their own struggles." This is something she will remember when she walks into a Kate Spade store in future, she says.

Meanwhile, Dr Seshan Ramaswami attributed some of the label's popularity here to MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling. "The name Kate Spade will remain linked with MP Tin Pei Ling, whose photograph carrying a Kate Spade bag made quite a ripple during the elections in 2011.

"The bag was later auctioned for charity, but that local linkage to the Kate Spade brand will likely not be salient to the next generation of Singaporeans."