Now in Manila: Kate Spade and the American Dream

- Paula C. Nocon () - January 2, 2003 - 12:00am
What’s in a Kate Spade bag? Let’s look inside.

You might find in it some sad memories of those years when all the bags and purses you had in your closet only came in black, brown or tan. Which you had to match with shoes in exactly the same shade.

Or perhaps some old photographs of your grandmother in her full-skirted dresses, high heels, red lipstick and curled hair, carrying a whimsical handbag in an equally whimsical color.

And definitely, open a Kate Spade purse and you"ll sniff the scent of America and the American dream, a whiff of which you used to find in a newly opened balikbayan box from the States.

For all things Kate Spade, the desire, the nostalgia and the dream are all in the bag. And that bag is now available to the Filipino at the new Kate Spade boutique at Greenbelt 3.
Bag Lady
The story of Kate Spade’s rise and rise has been so widely chronicled in magazines and cable TV, that it’s now all part of fashionista legend. After graduation, Kate Brosnahan was transplanted to New York from her native Kansas City, working as a fashion and accessories editor for the now-defunct Mademoiselle magazine. While shopping around Manhattan in the early Nineties, she realized that she couldn’t find the kind of handbag she truly wanted – the kind she was nostalgic for. With the help of her then-boyfriend, advertising whiz Andy Spade (yes, funnyman David’s brother!), they put up Kate Spade bags. The first prototype was an austere black tote in nylon, with the now-famous label sewn on the outside; it also came in six other styles and three colors, and was first distributed in Barneys. More stores, numerous awards, and US$70 million in annual sales came soon after. And the rest, as they say, is a Lifestyle Network success story.

"Kate Spade is her company; the company is her," says Alan Goodman, vice president of Kate Spade. "It embodies who she is – simple, fun, wholesome, gracious, witty, stylish. Very American. And her story itself is a perfect fulfillment of the American dream."

Anton Huang of Stores Specialists, Inc., distributor of Kate Spade in the Philippines, points to this as the main factor behind their decision to take in the brand. "The whole image of Kate Spade is that Americana theme. And that is what the Filipino relates to, what the Filipino aspires for. We’ve always been attracted to American culture."
Eye Bags
The Kate Spade phenomenon made such an incredible mark in fashion history that Kate Spade the designer is credited with single-handedly reviving an accessories industry that had long been in the doldrums. Fun and whimsical fashion was then taking a backseat due to the backlash of Eighties excess, the consequent reaction of Nineties minimalism and seriousness, and a bit later, a fanatical obsession with logos.

So when Kate Spade bags in pink, orange, gingham, nylon, satin, and all other sorts came along, it heralded a new era in fashion. It was pretty much what New Yorker Carrie Bradshaw / Sarah Jessica Parker and Sex and the City did to television.

"I would say that Kate Spade is also very New York," says Goodman. "Our bags are fun, they have image and style. They’re not quite trendy, but they’re fashionable. We’re still a very young company – only about 10 years old – but the products are already considered modern classics."

Huang adds: "We like Kate Spade because the designs are very interesting. Though deceptively simple, a Kate Spade bag has a lot more detail than European designer brands, which are more about the hardware. With Kate Spade, the detail is in the fabric, the lining."
The Kate Is Out Of The Bag
So far, the Kate Spade line has branched out to shoes, stationery and other accessories, is expanding throughout the world, and is moving farther away from its initial reputation as the bag-of-the-moment of snobby fashionistas. In fact, if all of Kate Spade, husband and company’s plans come to fruition, Kate Spade accessories will ultimately become part of Americana as much as Norman Rockwell, Levi’s jeans and Bass loafers are.

A recent advertising campaign, for one, had a Royal Tenenbaums-without-the-dysfunction feel to it. The emotional campaign made use of a fictional "Lawrence family," which showed seemingly candidly-taken snapshots of an elegant-looking, gracious, well-mannered American family sightseeing in various parts of New York City. It was a hit; many people were able to relate with the story, and to relate the story with Kate Spade products.

Huang is betting that Filipinos can easily relate to that just as well. "We’re going for the aspirational market, aged 25-35, the ones who know what they want, are interested in fashion, and have goals that are already accessible to them."

"The American Dream, after all," Huang remarks, "is in very many ways the same as the Filipino dream."
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