NEW YORK — Designer Kate Spade has a whole new bag.

A beauty bag, that is.

And it’s a carefully crafted bag — the beauty collection is two-plus years in the making. Spade, a former Mademoiselle accessories editor, signed her licensing agreement with The Estee Lauder Cos. Inc. in November 1999. But Spade, who’s juggling a white Maltese named Henry during the interview, insists the time frame was deliberate. “We didn’t want to rush to market until we had something that was right,” she said. “If something is going to have longevity, you have to feel in your heart that it’s right, and we took the time to do it — and we’re fortunate to have a fragrance partner who allowed us to do that.”

The first 12 stockkeeping units — a fragrance collection that also includes bath and body items — will make their highly anticipated debut in May.

Spade, who founded her accessories firm in January 1993 with husband Andy Spade — when, technically, she was still Kate Brosnahan, “much to my mother’s chagrin, I wasn’t yet Kate Spade, but I told her Kate Brosnahan was a little long for the label,” she laughed — is no stranger to licensing. She also has licensing deals for shoes, eyewear and most recently, home products. Spade’s company is 56 percent owned by Neiman Marcus; Kate and Andy, along with two partners, Elyce Arons and Pamela Bell Simotas, own the remainder.

Although there was industry speculation that Spade’s first sku’s would be color cosmetics, she says that the plan was always to do fragrance first. “In fact, I’m a bath girl,” she said, holding up the powder puff to her dusting powder. “I’m completely into the ritual. That’s what I wanted to do first — and, of course, we needed the scent to do that.”

Andy Spade says wryly: “I can shower in minutes, then watch two TV shows while Kate’s taking a bath.”

Spade’s main aim was to create “a simple, feminine, timeless perfume.” The finished juice, by Firmenich, is a bouquet of Kate’s favorite white flowers. The heart of the fragrance is white honeysuckle: “I still remember smelling it on long car trips with my family,” she reminisced. The honeysuckle is enhanced by notes of gardenia, jasmine, tuberose and fresh muguet. The scent also includes notes of tuberose, neroli and orangeflower, with a finish of black currant and violet leaves.

Spade talks of top notes like a pro — and that’s no accident, says Pamela Baxter, president of the specialty group worldwide for Lauder. “With some designers, you do a few options and let them pick,” she said. “With Kate, she was in there picking notes and meeting with us once and twice a week to get it all right.”

That attention for detail follows through to the scent’s bottles — each of the three fragrance sku’s are slightly different shapes, from a round parfum to a teardrop-shaped 3.4-oz. eau de parfum, and the Kate Spade logo is embossed into the top of the spray bottle — and its packaging, which includes boxes lined with a floral print. “It’s like Kate’s bags — the linings are always unexpected and special,” said Andy Spade. As are the boxes themselves, with pithy sayings on the back, such as “she likes a long bath and a short story.” According to Andy Spade, that was inspired by the handbags: “On some of the tags, we have things like, ‘Call your mother,’ which seems to amuse our customers,” he said. “We thought it would be fun to try that on the fragrance packaging.”

Each aspect of the collection has a different accent color. The fragrance portion, in coral, includes a 1.7-oz. eau de parfum, $58; a 3.4-oz. eau de parfum, $78, and a 0.25-oz. parfum, $98. The bath line, in green, has a 6.7-oz. body wash with a terry cloth mitt, $38; a 5-oz. body polish with a terry cloth puff, $30; a 6.7-oz. bath oil with a terry cloth hairband, $42, and a soap trio, $25. And the body line, in yellow, includes a 3-oz. dusting powder, $42; a 5-oz. buttercream, $42; a 6.7-oz. body moisturizer, $45, and a 5-oz. sheer body oil, $45. A travel vanity includes a 2.5-oz. moisturizer, a 2.5-oz. body wash, a travel candle and a sleep mask, $60.

The fragrance, which is targeted at 22- to 55-year-olds, will be available in 160 doors initially, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Hall’s and Jacobson’s, as well as the six domestic Kate Spade doors. Although the fragrance line will roll out to a wider range of distribution later, Baxter and her team wouldn’t put a time frame on it. “The fragrance will be built like Kate’s other businesses — carefully and in a targeted way,” said Debra Clark, senior vice president of marketing worldwide for Kate Spade Beauty. Even though none of the executives would comment on its projected sales, industry sources estimated that it would do about $10 million at retail in its first year on-counter.

The scent’s major promotional push, initially, will be sampling and personal appearances by Spade, noted Terry Darland, vice president, national sales and education for Kate Spade Beauty. About 10 million scented pieces are planned, including scented postcards that will be placed in Kate Spade handbags delivered this spring. Spade also will make personal appearances in major cities. Regional advertising is planned for spring, while national advertising is slated to break in September books. Although the line will be sold at the fragrance bar, Kate Spade fragrance outposts also are planned in a number of retail doors and the fragrance will appear side by side with Spade’s handbags in some doors, as well.

What’s next? Although Spade wouldn’t confirm, color cosmetics are likely the next project on the docket, and Spade is also hard at work preparing for the launch of Kate Spade Home, coming in the fall of 2003. “It’s not about how many products I can put my name on — the important thing, to me, is that they show a certain wit and passion, and that’s not something I can do if I’m just slapping my name on everything,” she said. “I have to believe in it.”

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