Kate Spade and Fashion’s Identity Crisis: When a Name Makes a Brand

Kate Spade and Fashion’s Identity Crisis: When a Name Makes a Brand

“Any time there is a transition, whether planned or unplanned, it’s an invitation for customers and investors to consider whether the brand is still the real thing, whether it’s still got it,” said Susan Scafidi, the founder of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. “Having the name on the label makes it that much more of an open question and that much more of a risk.”

Ms. Spade seemed intensely aware of her name’s influence. She started Frances Valentine, a new label, in 2016 and changed her name to include “Valentine.” On Tuesday, her sister told The Kansas City Star that Ms. Spade had not sought mental health treatment in part out of fear that her troubles would reflect poorly on her brand.

“In this day and age, with so much media, people are brands, not just the products that people put on their body,” said Bobbi Brown, a friend of Ms. Spade’s who left her eponymous cosmetics label in 2016, more than two decades after she sold it to the beauty giant Estée Lauder.

Ms. Brown said she is regularly stopped by Bobbi Brown Cosmetics shoppers asking her to change or add products over which she no longer has any say. Founders also bring an emotional investment and creative élan to self-named companies that many corporate acquirers struggle to recreate, Ms. Brown said.

“A founder cares about details, about people, things that maybe big corporations don’t care as much about,” she said.

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