Katia Kuethe, former Teen Vogue creative director, now senior director of creative at Kate Spade.
(New York Times) Kate Spade is in the midst of a creative “refresh” as Katia Kuethe, the brand’s new senior director of creative, put it. The 19-year-old brand is known for its approachable and unspoken childlike “dress-up fun” attitude, and for producing tongue-in-cheek accessories and clothes that nod to vintage.
In 2007, Liz Claiborne Inc. (now known as Fifth and Pacific) acquired Kate Spade and installed Deborah Lloyd as president and chief creative officer. Since opening its first store in 1996 in SoHo, Kate Spade’s colorful empire has expanded into Asia and the Middle East. Ms. Kuethe was hired this spring to be the driving force that continues to shape global expansion.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Ms. Kuethe has brought her globally inclined creativity to brands such as Tom Ford, J. Crew, YSL and Gucci where she helped create and develop the packaging and advertisement campaigns.
She put her degree in graphic and editorial design from the Academy of Arts in Stuttgart to further use in June 2010 when she was hired as creative director for the upbeat teen publication, Teen Vogue. (Ms. Kuethe’s magazine experience mirrors that of Kate Spade’s founder, Katherine Noel Brosnahan, who previously held a post in the accessories department of Mademoiselle magazine.)
Ms. Kuethe left Teen Vogue in April of this year, and is now taking things slow at Kate Spade. “To take a brand that is as big as Kate Spade and shape its future is a huge responsibility,” she said. “This is a very serious thing. I can’t be like ‘now, everything will be blue.’ There is a delicate strategy. Fall will present a good indication as to where I’m taking the brand. Things will be slightly cleaner.”
Below, in a Q. & A., Ms. Kuethe discusses her plans for the Kate Spade brand, how her magazine career relates to her new job, and what she finds overwhelming.
Q. How did this new position transpire?
A. They [Kate Spade] approached me before I took the job at Teen Vogue. I had heard from a headhunter that they were looking for someone, though I never really pursued it. I went on to Teen Vogue, I was so happy there. Then a couple of years later, the job came back on the market. I wasn’t super interested, but I started talking to them more about what they were looking for.
Q. Would you say your work at Teen Vogue influenced your choices at Kate Spade?
A. I think all creatives have a couple of things that they always do no matter where they go. You have your personal taste and style and when people hire you that’s what’s ultimately they are looking for. There are certainly things that I’m taking that I have done with Teen Vogue, but doing them in a different shape and form. For me, it’s always about good quality. I’m always looking for something that is somewhat everlasting quality. I’m always looking for continuity and constancy: things you can do for a cool young magazine, like Teen Vogue or a global lifestyle brand like Kate Spade. It’s applicable in both cases.
Q. What are you focusing on first?
A. The most important thing for me right now is the Web site. Overall I’m not making large changes. At this point I’m here to direct the continued evolution of the Kate Spade New York brand. At the moment, it’s about streamlining things and ensuring that the message we give is the same across the board: for store, Web, windows, advertising, etc. I will take a step back in six months and review what we have done so far, re-evaluate my work to make sure everything makes sense.
This sounds like a simple task, but for a brand that’s really growing this massively and branding itself in China and the Middle East, it is truly necessary. I would like to bring a “workshop-element’’ into the creative marketing team at Kate Spade New York. As for the team I’m building right now, I look for people who think on their own and who bring more to the table than what’s asked of them. I don’t like it when everything is coming from the top.
Another thing I’m currently interested in is the beauty business. I am really looking forward to working more on that.
Q. Do you think Kate Spade is trying to bring in a new consumer base?
A. I think we have to. It’s the same for every brand: you’ve got to keep your eye on what’s next. You can’t keep relying on the customer that you already have. You must always keep in mind “Who else can my brand interest?” There is huge opportunity for the product that Kate Spade New York does well. There’s a lot of fun and quirkiness to it, this is something that appeals to a younger woman. There’s always an exploration of new markets and new customers to speak to.
Q. Do you ever get overwhelmed?
A. Totally. One thing I really struggle with is the calendar with the back-to-back meetings. Coming from Teen Vogue, where you basically sit pretty in your office and have a meeting with your team in the morning and one in the evening, and in between you work with photographers, stylist and editors. Now, there’s a lot more. And not necessarily only creative.
Q. With Kate Spade now global, how do you appeal to the varied markets?
A. Kate Spade New York is an applicable global brand. There is nothing offensive in the world of Kate Spade. It is always optimistic, always cultured, maybe flirtatious, but never overly sexy or raunchy. Women globally can relate to the brand message and its product offerings. Up to now I only have my own vision of Kate Spade belonging to Manhattan, so I plan to travel throughout Asia and the Middle East and seeing the stores in context. I’m looking forward to seeing us against our competitors in a different market. This will help to put it in a global context for me.
Q. How immediate and noticeable will the changes you make be?
A. Honestly, I’m not planning on making massive changes at the moment. It is about continuity and an evolution. For now, I plan on focusing on a sense of continuity throughout the entire brand; what you see on the site will be connected to what you see in print, the window displays and within the store. Next spring, there are some amazing things coming up for the brand, nothing I can talk too much about. The opportunities are exciting.
Q. What message will the fall campaign provide?
A. For the fall campaign, we place our girl in the environment she belongs in, not just location, but the entire vibe. You have to know what she does for work and her daytime activities. You have to understand your customer and her world. In the ad campaign I think you’ll see what kind of environment I want the Kate Spade New York girl to be in. The fall campaign will be a nice refresh. it will be for a younger customer.
I think Craig and Deborah have moved the brand forward very much, and this was the right time for me to have joined their team. It’s nice to see all these efforts come together in the fall campaign. I work very closely with Deborah and want to help to ensure her message gets out as strong as possible across all platforms.
Q. Is working at Kate Spade anything like your experience at Teen Vogue?
A.In a way, they are a lot alike. This past Monday we moved into our new offices, which are gorgeous, where I set up a room that would mimic a planning room at a magazine, the creative arranged by months. I like to make the joke that “You don’t need me, everything is on the wall.”
Another similar element of magazine work is balancing strong stories against more passive projects: in a magazine you always have a “hero” shoot compared to the others. I’ll be applying this method to our site, windows and visuals in the store. It’s a balancing act. Working for a magazine is a highly collaborational effort, something that I would like to maintain at Kate Spade New York in the work with my team, and in the work across the departments.
Q. How do you think the Kate Spade consumer has evolved? Who is she now?
A. She has evolved. I imagine the Kate Spade New York customer as someone who’s into arts and culture; she loves the joie de vivre. She always has some kind of cultural interests. For instance, if you look at our book clutches
I think this is a very specific peg to our brand, a product that announces the sophistication of our consumer but is still fun. Our girl loves elements of vintage and the feeling of celebration throughout our brand. There’s always a wink. She never takes things too seriously.
Q. Do you see yourself changing packaging or the logo?
A. No, I absolutely love the packaging and logo, I won’t change that. It gives such a good signal. It’s a matter of reusing and repurposing things like this. Work with what you have until you are convinced that it needs to change. This kind of continuity helps our customers to memorize the brand. Though, I am working on actually smaller logo placements on all product. The product should be so instantly recognizable that it does not require a huge logo. This is more chic, too.
Q. Do you see Kate Spade incorporating celebrities into your campaigns?
A. I don’t. I think the whole celebrity thing has become very formulaic: the idea of using a celebrity just for the sake of using one. Essentially it’s become just paying for exposure. Our brand doesn’t have to go there. Mind you, if I find that perfect girl that I think could work with our brand long-term in a year or whenever, I’ll reconsider, but for now, Kate Spade New York is doing fine without.
Q. What’s it like working for Deborah Lloyd?
A. I very much cater to her. I am a very strong creative with a strong point of view. But, I am very much of a pleaser. I want and aspire for my bosses to be very happy with the work that I do for them. That way they see that I work for them and we get to install a level of trust. I admire Deborah’s achievements for the brand and see myself as a tool to help bring the brand to the next level and beyond.
Q. Do you see Kate Spade expanding their licensing into something further? Auto?
A. Honestly, funny you would ask that. The brand offers enough heritage that it could go there. People who are diehard Kate Spade fanatics, how do you keep them satisfied? How do you keep building your brand? How big do you want to go? So, you never know.
Categories: Brands, Fashion, Interview, New York City