I was dismayed and puzzled when I caught wind of Gloria Steinem’s cameo in Kate Spade’s latest “Miss Adventure” promotional video. These three-minute videos follow ditsy and fast-talking Anna Kendrick as “Miss Adventure,” Kate Spade’s high-maintenance and unapologetically silly poster girl who engages in cute moments of situational comedy. The video in question featuring Ms. Steinem, the third in the series, shows Kendrick attempting to entertain herself at the Russian Tea Room after she is jilted by her date. She engages in hijinks with her small dog and talks to her purse with a quiet desperation until Ms. Steinem joins her at the table, where they share dessert and the minifilm ends on a giggly and conspiratorial note.
This video is perfectly on-brand for Kate Spade: pop, silly, and cute, yet self-aware. These videos are part of their stellar marketing revamp of the past few years, and snagging Steinem was a great coup, adding a sliver of understated intellectual cool to their young and girly brand identity. Additionally, by choosing an iconic women with her own personal brand for their campaign, they reach an older audience, and benefit from the now tried-and-true model of using older and established women as symbols of aspiration in their marketing campaigns, like Catherine Denuve for Louis Vuitton, Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs cosmetics, Charlotte Rampling for Nars, and the Joan Didion for Céline ad that caused (restrained) shockwaves through the fashion and pop culture communities.
But this label-pairing doesn’t immediately make strategic sense for Steinem: Gloria Steinem fits Kate Spade’s brand, but Kate Spade does not fit Gloria Steinem’s brand. The Ms. Magazine founder would not carry a clutch emblazoned with “Eat Cake For Breakfast,” nor would she wear a thick-striped A-line skirt and a statement necklace, Blair Waldorf headband optional. She would have been a much better fit at the more grown-up J.Crew, or join ranks with Lauren Hutton at The Row. So why, of all the brands who would be panting to have her helm their campaigns, did she choose to endorse Kate Spade, the almost-but-not-quite-witty, easily excitable younger sister of Tory Burch?
Probably not for money, and the argument for feminism is tenuous. Ms. Steinem explains in an interview with Kate Spade that one of the messages of the video is that it’s okay for women to dine alone (but then again, the characters don’t actually end up doing this.)
But perhaps there’s another feminist subtext at work here. Maybe Ms. Steinem’s endorsement of Kate Spade is a message to those of us (the author included) who look down their Karen Walker sunglasses-shod noses at brands like Kate Spade and the women who wear them as not being valid in the fashion world. With this video, Steinem makes the case that dress – and brand – is a feminist issue, and women have the right to wear whatever they choose – black and white being no better or morally upright than pink and green. Will it get Céline devotees to start wearing Kate Spade? No. But it will make them aware of their perhaps-unfounded brand prejudices as well as the feminist politics entwined in the fashion industry. It will, however, spur those who already enthusiastically wear Kate Spade to start reading Steinem, a win-win for both parties.
So let her eat cake (alone) for breakfast. Kate Spade’s Miss Adventure has a right to be taken seriously by fashion community.