As New York Fashion Week kicks into high gear, one collection that has been getting a fair amount of attention on Chinese social media is that of Kate Spade, which features many Asia-influenced items—including one handbag resembling a Chinese food takeout container.
Inspired by Kate Spade Creative Director Deborah Lloyd’s recent trips to Tokyo and Shanghai, the collection comes across as a sartorial expression of the Western concept of “Asian fusion” that often results in dining disasters when it appears in culinary form. Like restaurants in New York City that serve mediocre sushi, pad thai, and generic glazed meat with rice all under one roof, the collection features a panoply of items meant to represent various East Asian cultures, including a bag shaped like a bird cage from 1920s-era Shanghai, a Chinese-style fan clutch, and a Japanese maneki-neko cat purse. The collection’s most buzzed-about item by far on English media, however, was the takeout bag, which has commentators divided. While some critics have referred to the bag as “whimsical” and “very clever,” Twitter commenters have called it “cliché” and “tacky.” According to Lloyd in an interview with StyleCaster, “I hope I haven’t offended anybody, because it really wasn’t meant to!”
From reactions on Sina Weibo, it looks like most Chinese users don’t find the Chinese takeout bag offensive, but that doesn’t mean they like it. “That fast food case turned into a bag makes me laugh so hard that I want to cry. Later, I can go out carrying a water bucket,” mocked one user on a comment thread about the bags. Many others made fun of it as well. Another commenter joked, “Once you’re done eating Chinese food in the United States, you can carry the container down the street and be the most fashionable!”
Some responded with confusion, since the container is common for takeout in the United States, not China. “What kind of Chinese food is this? I feel that it’s well-known in America; the actors on The Big Bang Theory are eating out of them all the time,” theorized one user (the American show is extremely popular in China). “It’s just a doggie bag; you can get it at many American restaurants,” explained another. “The designer doesn’t understand China at all,” concluded one on a different thread.
These reactions may cause a fair amount of dismay for Kate Spade, which has big plans for China. With about a dozen stores in the country now, the company’s CEO has expressed his enthusiasm for expansion in the coming year.
Another piece in the collection may be its saving grace with Chinese consumers, however. While the takeout bag may not take off, the Japanese maneki-neko cat purse looks set to sell quite well, as it has garnered effusive praise from a large number of Chinese commenters. Unlike the takeout container, the cat is a widely known and favorite symbol in China. In fact, most users ignored the confusing cardboard-like box in order to gush about the maneki-neko, which is believed to bring good luck to the owner. “I’m amused by the incompetence of the Chinese food container, but very fond of the cat!” said one user. Many commenters use the term meng (萌), a loan word from Japanese meaning “adorable,” to describe the feline bag, saying things like “The cat is so adorable I want to cry!” and “Where can I buy the maneki-neko bag?”
Amazingly, this isn’t the first time a Western fashion brand has designed a handbag to look like a takeout container—Chanel created one in 2010 that also met with mixed reviews.
Considering the fact that the takeout container appears to be a blunder, it’s not clear whether or not the designers were aware of the cat’s popularity, since, like the takeout boxes, the cats are also kitschy items found in Asian restaurants in the United States. Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, it looks like the brand may have stumbled onto a China gold mine with the cat—and in the end, that may be all that matters. “Kate Spade is advancing into the China market with all its strength; how clever!” exclaimed one commenter.