The Life and Legacy of Kate Spade

Kate Spade grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She went to Arizona State University and graduated in 1985. At the university Kate Spade meant Andy Spade who later became her business partner and husband. After college Kate and Andy moved to New York where Kate first started working in fashion as a fashion assistant at Mademoiselle. Kate Spade eventually became the magazine's senior fashion editor before leaving the company in 1991. She saw an area in which she could expand the fashion industry- handbags.

While working at Mademoiselle she was exposed to many different designs of handbags but none of them fit the look she wanted, so she decided to create her own. With no proper fashion training or business training, she and Andy Spade decided to start the company as partners. They named the company Kate Spade, which at the time was a combination of both of their names. They officially launched their company in 1993 and the couple married one year later.

In 1996 Kate Spade opened its first New York City store location which was located in the SoHo neighborhood. The same year the company broke even and Kate Spade was also awarded the “New Fashion Talent in Accessories” prize which helped the company gain publicity.

Kate Spade became famous for their unique handbags that were often boxy shapes and came in bright colors and vibrant patterns. The company expanded into home fashions, stationary, and other fashion garments that all reflected the company's unique aesthetic. The New York Times describes the Spade company by saying, “Her name became shorthand for cute, clever bags that were an instant hit with cosmopolitan women in the early stages of their careers and, later, young girls”. Having a Kate Spade bag was and still is seen as a coming of age event. “For many women, “Kate Spade” didn’t mean a handbag or even a New York designer—rather, it represented something bigger: a milestone purchase, an achievement, a first investment in one’s self.” explained a group of women in an interview for Glamour.

An item that the company was well known for was the “Sam Bag” which was a small boxy shaped, vintage-inspired handbag. The label for the company become a recognizable part of the brand; it featured the company name written in all lowercase letters and often appeared on the exterior of the products rather than the interior.

Her style was unique and whimsical yet classy and professional and many women felt that it added more fun into their daily fashion routine. Kate Spade products could always be used to add a pop of color into any outfit. She has impacted contemporary fashion by allowing for a fun and childlike aesthetic to have a place in professional atmospheres. She created the trend of wearing bright colors like neon pink or pastel yellow in an everyday outfit, where before Kate Spade, it was more professional to stick with more neutral colors. She redefined cosmopolitan fashion.

She was inspired by vintage fashions and recreated vintage looks, making them modern and chic. The New Yorker describes Kate Spade as having an edge in fashion by saying, “Kate Spade came to represent a kind of Holly Golightly sophistication for the masses, a way to experience a heady cosmopolitan thrill without the stuffiness, or the exorbitant prices, of legacy designer goods”. She gave many people the opportunity to participate in this kind of fashion with prices that were often seen as more affordable than other leading designers. Her prices were a good match for her products because she often attracted a crowd of young, up and coming women, who most likely were not able to pay the high prices of other designers.

While Mrs. Spade was often seen as fun and whimsical she had struggled with depression in her private life. Because she was known publicly to be a bright and bubbly yet poised and polite woman, the world was shocked to hear that she committed suicide on June 5th, 2018. The New York Times reported that, “Ms. Spade, 55, was discovered dead at her Manhattan apartment, where she had hanged herself in her bedroom, the police said.” Her death was widely seen in the fashion industry as an extremely tragic event.

Kate Spade as a designer was historically significant because she paved the way for other women in the industry to create a brand as well, including designers such as Tory Burch. She defined what it meant for a woman to be a designer and a businesswoman and she did it with no proper training in either of these fields. She is an icon and role model for all the women who are now entering the fashion industry, these same women are also the women who fit the demographic for the company's customers.

Designers often pull inspiration from the past and create something modern and Kate Spade is a great example of that. She used inspiration from vintage chic styles of the mid-1900s. She had a particular style that she wanted and when she could not find it anywhere else she decided to create it herself. She was able to find a gap in the industry and fill it, something every designer strives to do.

Fashion designers in history have all had a role in shaping the industry but Spade’s role is unique because it was self-created and done in an extremely humble manner. She represents much more than just handbags. She represents a lifestyle and an attitude. Kate Spade said, “I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman but as a great friend—and a heck of a lot of fun.”