How Tragedy Can Boost Brand Interest In Fashion

In the hours, days, and months following Kate Spade’s sudden death in June 2018, sales soared for the iconic namesake label she created. On designer resale site Poshmark, sales immediately spiked for Kate Spade designs, both vintage items and those from more recent collections.

As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, sales of brand items were up 600 per cent over the site’s 30-day average by the day’s end on the day Spade died. The following day, sales remained strong, at 500 per cent higher. Of course, this isn’t entirely surprising; in the arts, interest in a figure’s work often spikes not long after news breaks of their passing.

While this is particularly evident in visual artists and recording artists (and has been coined the “death effect”), it’s also proven to be the case in fashion. The commercial impacts of the deaths of figures associated with brands are impossible to ignore—with increased sales a consequence that can almost be predicted.

In Kate Spade’s case, an increase in brand interest occurred despite the designer’s long absence from the Kate Spade label, which she stepped away from in 2007 to focus on her family. Interest in the Frances Valentine label, however—the less famous label she created with her husband in 2016—spiked as well, and the company almost sold out of its entire online inventory in the days following Spade’s death.

The brand later honoured Kate Spade in September 2018 by re-releasing the iconic, boxy silhouette that made Spade’s name famous, aptly called the “Kate” tote, which sold exclusively at Barneys. It maintains deep links to Spade with initiatives like casting her niece Rachel Brosnahan as the face of a new campaign that honours the late designer.

Most recently, when Karl Lagerfeld passed away in February, Fendi and Chanel, —both fashion houses attached to his name—saw resales and searches soar in the wake of his death.

Karl Lagerfeld styledemocracy
Photo via Flickr

According to The Australian Financial Review, designer resale retailer Vestiaire Collective experienced a 558 per cent increase in sales of the Fendi Baguette when Lagerfeld died, along with a major spike in Chanel purchases. As the publication reports, page views for Chanel had increased 42 per cent and sales of Chanel products had increased by 34 per cent this past February compared to February of last year. In response to Lagerfeld’s death, Fendi—where Lagerfeld was the creative director for decades—was particularly as coveted as ever, with sales of Fendi bags up a massive 397 per cent.

In the days following the untimely death of iconic British designer Alexander McQueen back in 2010, retailers reported a sharp rise in sales of McQueen items, particularly when it came to items like his signature skull print scarf and main line collection. As headlines read in 2011, company sales continued to grow significantly even a year after.

In the case of McQueen, the fate of his company had seemed questionable initially following his shocking death, with analysts predicting his namesake label wouldn’t survive because the hands-on designer had been the driving vision behind the beloved brand. Of course, under the direction of designer Sarah Burton, this wasn’t the case, and the label continues to be a top pick among royalty and Hollywood’s famous faces like The Duchess Of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. Burton continues to draw from McQueen in many elements of her designs today.

Alexander McQueen
Photo via Flickr

In one of the last interviews before his death, McQueen tellingly said, “‘I’m 40 now. When I’m dead, hopefully this house will still be going.” As with the music of icons that have passed, the success of the McQueen label proves it is possible for brands to outlive their creators. The same can be said for the continued success of Yves Saint Laurent and the Gianni Versace labels years after the passing of their founders.

For many loyal and longtime consumers, the key to a continued interest is not letting the influence of these figures die completely with the designer. For others, it’s about getting their hands on as many vintage items as their research skills and wallets will allow—both for sentimental value and financial value.

Featured Image: Instagram/@jasminewaii

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