Princess Kate to the rescue
How the 'Kate effect' saved a luxury handbag designer
The 'Kate Effect'. It's a term we're all familiar with – the soft power the Princess of Wales has on the fashion industry, which she is estimated to contribute a staggering £1 billion to annually through her choice of clothing.
The Princess became an influencer even before the term was coined, shaping what many of us buy and wear.
And she really does have that undeniable ability to turn brands into success stories, particularly smaller businesses.
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting to Taiwanese talent Grace Han over a video call. The luxury bag and leather accessories designer saw sales double after the Princess, then the Duchess of Cambridge, stepped out with her Love Letter handbag in October 2020.
Royal seal of approval
Grace tells me she cried happy tears in her bathroom for an hour when she first saw the photos of Kate wearing her handbag circulate on Twitter. The Princess had owned the bag for almost two years before she debuted it in public, so you can imagine the sheer relief and joy Grace felt.
It may sound like an exaggeration but having the royal seal of approval was truly a life-changing moment for Grace. I could hear the emotion in her voice as she told me she had opened her store in London’s Knightsbridge at the start of 2019, only to be forced to lock up in 2020 during the pandemic. She very nearly considered giving up her career in fashion until the Princess showcased her handbag. Like magic, sales soared and the Love Letter handbag became her 2020 bestseller.
"I literally cried in my bathroom for an hour," Grace tells me. "I don't think the Princess could ever know the effect that carrying my bag would have on me or my brand. One door had closed, I was really disappointed, but then another opened. It was a sign to keep pursuing my dream and passion and just wow, she gave me a lot of hope.
"Even during the pandemic, her team gave me a call and said that the Princess hoped that I could continue doing my designs and that she really likes them, and that she hoped to see our store reopen. That really touched me.
"Her wearing my bag also sent a message that Taiwan is very good at craftsmanship and making bags, and I think that touched Taiwanese people too."
The Love Letter bag
The bag in question is the Love Letter Top Handle Bag. Kate has the small version in black which retails for £2,730. It has a distinctive envelope closure – an ode to love letters – and Grace and I agree that it isn't a coincidence that Kate chose this one given the name and meaning of the bag.
"I believe it was her stylist who came into our store in Knightsbridge," Grace says. "We gave her our catalogue and she said she'd show it to the Princess, and that if the Princess liked a bag, she would select one and let us know. We were so thrilled when she picked the Love Letter one. I remember I sat in the cab and carried the bag to the palace and we handed it over, and then we waited for her to wear it."
"We waited for almost two years!" Grace recalls. "It was a long time, but my team said no news is good news, so we just kept waiting. It was very exciting for me when she finally debuted it at the launch of her Hold Still campaign. I believe she knew the meaning behind the bag, how it symbolises spreading love."
Spreading the love
Given how each element of Kate's outfit is dissected at every public appearance, I don't think it's a coincidence that she chose to pull out the Love Letter handbag at a time when we all needed an extra boost of love and hope amid the Covid era of face masks, Zoom fatigue, and lockdown restrictions. The then Duchess was attending the launch of Hold Still, a project whereby the public were asked to submit their most moving photos from the pandemic.
A few weeks later, Kate recycled it while boarding the Royal Train at London's Euston station as she and Prince William embarked on a three-day tour to pay tribute to individuals and organisations across the UK who had gone above and beyond to support their local communities in 2020.
The handbag is a versatile piece that Kate has worn at other poignant appearances: to view floral tributes left for the late Queen Elizabeth II at Sandringham House in September 2022; during her first visit to Wales as the new Princess of Wales a few days later; and, most recently, in March 2023 when she visited the Hayes Muslim Centre in west London, covering up with a headscarf.
A piece of art
While sales doubled after the Princess' first appearance and the Love Letter became 2020's bestseller, Grace has always been conscious that her brand is not designed for mass production.
"I always treat every bag like it's my baby, a piece of art," she says. "I insist on the quality of each bag, every one is handmade. When I created the Love Letter, I selected a special calfskin leather that is really smooth, so it gives the bag a glow. I love the clean shape and line of the bag, and the top handle.
"I think the Princess is very elegant, very feminine, classic and timeless. When she carried my bag, she was showing that my brand has quality and taste."
Fast forward three years and I'm pleased to say Grace's flagship store has just re-opened at 13 Beauchamp Place, South Kensington. "It was wonderful to be back in London," Grace says. "I really put a lot of effort into the store. I paid attention to all of the details, like the decoration, so I think it would have been really sad not to reopen again."
Take a peek inside the luxury space below. I’ve got plenty of hand bags but I guess there’s always space for a Grace Han bag…
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