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A Rebirth for Nasty Gal? A Sale for Kate Spade?

A preview of the (possible) business deals to come in 2017.

A purse designed to look like a cinema marquee that reads: “IT’S ALL AN ACT”
A purse featured in Kate Spade’s fall 2016 New York Fashion Week presentation.
Photo: Randy Brooke/Getty Images

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Two brands tailor-made for two very different women — both possessing a generous measure of sass and a love of bold design — may be looking at new homes in 2017, according to reports that emerged on Wednesday.

First: Nasty Gal, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November, could find itself reborn on the other side of the pond. The British fast fashion website Boohoo said Wednesday that it has put in a bid to acquire “certain intellectual property assets” from Nasty Gal for $20 million, pending court approval.

Then there’s Kate Spade, the brand for spunky women whose personal aesthetic skews more toward bows than bodycon. (Though the two, obviously, are not mutually exclusive.) The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Kate Spade & Co. is working with an investment bank to look into a sale of the company. A rep for the brand declined Racked’s request for comment.

Though Nasty Gal has gone through its fair share of troubles since it was founded in 2006, including reports of poor company culture and lawsuits filed by women who were fired after getting pregnant, it’s maintained enough cachet to make its intellectual property a worthwhile purchase for a brand like Boohoo. The latter, which prides itself on being able to take products from concept to completion in two weeks, said in a release that Nasty Gal could help push its international growth forward, especially in the US.

From a shopper’s perspective, the question is how closely Boohoo, or any party looking to snap up Nasty Gal’s name, would hew to its original vision.

The potential sale of Kate Spade doesn’t come out of quite so desperate a financial situation. In early November, CEO Craig Leavitt said that a challenging retail environment and unfavorable trends in tourist shopping had put a damper on Kate Spade’s sales in the third quarter of 2016. Nonetheless, those sales came in at $317 million, a 14 percent increase from the year before. From 2014 to 2015, net sales rose 9 percent to $1.24 billion.

Kate Spade has certainly changed hands before. Neiman Marcus took control of it in 1999 (then itself got acquired by two private equity firms in 2005), then sold it to Liz Claiborne in 2006, which became Fifth & Pacific in 2012, which became Kate Spade & Co. in 2014.

For now, we’ll be waiting to see who that buyer might be. Because as with Boohoo bidding for Nasty Gal, it will say a lot about where it wants to take its own business.

The strangeness, as a shopper, is that brands often remain shiny and cheery on their websites and in their marketing even during financial trouble and big changes like these. The homepage of Nasty Gal’s website is decked out in sequins and glitter for New Year’s; the party dresses featured aren’t marked down. Its Instagram remains a generic but universally compelling mashup of Kate Moss nostalgia photos, Sex and the City screen caps, and cool girl street style shots. Kate Spade continues to put out wonderful video shorts featuring Anna Kendrick, Zosia Mamet, and Miss Piggy.

That’s a brand’s job: to keep consumers believing. Even when things are not very shiny or cheery.