TOKYO (Reuters) - Given Kate Spade Saturday's bold designs, bright colors and creative flair, it was probably only fitting that the new lifestyle brand opened its first flagship store in fashion-obsessed Tokyo.
After all, the sister label of Kate Spade New York began developing the brand with Japanese consumers in mind more than three years ago, envisaging functional designs that would strike a chord with on-the-go urbanites and expand the original brand's DNA into a more casual realm.
Kate Spade Saturday opened its first store in Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district earlier this month and another in Osaka last week, and plans to have a total of five Japan stores open by June. Following the Japan launch, it also debuted in the United States via an online store and is eyeing a push into other international markets later this year.
"Because this brand's concept originated in Japan and we really wanted to make the brand global, we felt Tokyo was the perfect city to launch the brand," Ayako Yanagisawa, president of Kate Spade Japan, told Reuters in an interview at the company's offices in Harajuku.
"I think Tokyo is a very interesting city for the fashion industry to try out a new brand. The market is mature enough to receive, and digest, and understand new creativity. There is also a wide age range of people who like fashion in this city," she said.
"It can be a real showcase for the Asian market."
Tokyo has served as an overseas launch point in recent years for several brands, including designers Rebecca Minkoff and Tracy Reese. Both the Rebecca Minkoff and Tracy Reese brands showed at the Tokyo Runway fashion show Wednesday held in conjunction with Japan Fashion Week.
Kate Spade New York, owned by Fifth & Pacific Companies Inc, is known for the splashy colors and bold prints of its designer handbags, clothing and accessories. It competes with brands like Coach and Michael Kors in the attainable luxury category.
Kate Spade Saturday skews slightly younger, more casual, and less expensive than the New York label.
Yanagisawa said both the Japanese and U.S. sides of the company were involved in the development of the Saturday brand from the onset, and the design of several products reflects Japanese consumers' love for functionality and detail.
Its Half-Circle Bag, which goes for 19,845 yen ($210) online, can be worn over the shoulder or around the waist, and the strap can even be worn as a belt. Its Square Tote, at 17,325 yen ($180), has two side pockets that can be used to hold folding umbrellas - a must-have for Japanese urban life - or just as easily a bottle of wine to take to a party.
Japan is Kate Spade's biggest market outside the United States and the company aims to increase the number of its Japanese stores - including New York, Saturday and its Jack Spade men's brand - to between 85 and 105 in 2016, from 54 in 2012.
"The Japanese retail market still has room to grow," Yanagisawa said, noting that so-called fashion buildings, often built adjacent to or above train stations, were a big draw for women in their 20s and 30s even as traditional department store sales drop off.
Japan's young trendsetters are starting to take notice.
"Everyone has a Kate Spade iPhone case," said Kyoko Oyamada, a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo sporting a black leather Kate Spade handbag. "I thought they were cute so I went to check out the bags myself and found one I wanted."
($1 = 95.0550 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, editing by Elaine Lies)
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