For Kate Spade, a Move Downmarket Goes Bust

The fashion brand’s cheaper chain aimed at young women didn’t work

In the fashion business, it seems, everybody wants to be Ralph Lauren. The company epitomizes the so-called aspirational lifestyle brand, able to book huge sales at premium prices for everything from clothing to furniture to dinnerware. Kate Spade, another designer-inspired company, dreamed of following that path. In 2008 it recruited Craig Leavitt, a Ralph Lauren executive, as its chief executive officer. But while shoppers continue to fawn over its colorful totes, satchels, and clutches—sales were up more than 40 percent in 2014—the company is learning that creating a buzzy lifestyle brand is more difficult than it seems.

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