We Will Remember Kate Spade

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Photo: AP Photo
Kate Spade posing by her store in SoHo, New York

For almost an entire generation of American women, Kate Spade handbags were a necessary token of a coming-of-age. “Colorful, classic, conversation-starters,” boasts the byline of Spade’s website on the handbags. Truly, Kate Spade handbags were somewhat of a cultural phenomenon; within a few years of Spade’s debut in 1993, the bags even graced the back of the Vogue magazine cover.

The bags’ unique designs — which could range from something as simple as a minimalist logo set against a vibrant hue, to something as ostentatious as a wicker-made piece in the shape of an armadillo — had something to suit everyone. 

Photo: Kate Spade
The Kate Spade "Wicked Armadillo" shoulder bag.

When reminiscing her first purchase of a Kate Spade bag, one woman on Twitter stated, “The first Kate Spade bag I ever owned gave me the confidence to walk with my head held high. She inspired many young women to be the best [and] happiest versions of themselves. The quirkiness of her designs allowed us to let go of our fears while still looking fabulous. This hurts.” 

Photo: Kate Spade
Along with handbags and fashion, Kate Spade also debuts quirky patterns.

Kate Spade took her own life on the morning of Tuesday, June 5 at age 55. She is survived by her husband, Andy Spade, and 13-year-old daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade. Spade’s newest fashion line, Frances Valentine, is named for her daughter.

The Kate Spade company has existed for 25 years, and continues to be a major designer of unique and beautiful handbags, clothing, shoes, and much more. First launched in 1993, the company was the fruition of Spade’s longstanding frustration of the handbags of her time.

“At the time, things were very – bags were too complicated,” Spade told NPR’s Guy Raz in January 2018. “And I would wear these very simple shapes, none of which were famous designers. I mean, there were no names. If someone were to say, whose is that? I’d say, ‘I don’t know, I bought it at a vintage store,’ or, [‘It’s] a straw bag I got in Mexico.’ So — and they were all very square and simple. And I thought, gosh, I mean, why can’t we find something just clean and simple and modern?”

Photo: AP Photo
Kate Spade posing by her own snakeskin bag.

Ms. Spade curated a lifestyle brand for women, by women. Working in an industry largely run by men, Spade managed to dominate the fashion world nonetheless.

“As a woman entrepreneur, in an industry that still has glass ceilings for women in its leadership positions, she was one of its pioneers,” Fashion Institute of Technology Professor Eileen Karp said in a statement. “She was a hands-on designer who understood the nuances of what was involved in actually making bags — how the selection of fabrications, the balance of the designs, the structure and engineering of the bags affected their ultimate quality and appearance. Besides having a strong creative vision, Kate Spade understood the business of fashion.”

The Kate Spade company was a joint venture made by Kate and Andy Spade, and by 1998, just 5 years after its initial debut, it was raking in $28 million. The entrepreneurial couple sold 56% of it to Neiman Marcus in 1999 for a cool $33.6 million, and left the company entirely in 2007 to focus on their daughter, who had been born in 2005. Kate Spade was sold to Coach in 2017 for $2.4 billion.

Despite her departure, Spade laid the foundation for an empire that would surpass $1 billion in revenue in 2014. Her ideas paved the way for other female-led lifestyle brands like Tory Burch to succeed. As the public face of the fashion company, and eventual household name, Kate Spade — who changed her surname to Valentine with the launch of her new Francis Valentine handbag line in 2016 — was one of the most powerful women to sit at the helm of a global life-style venture, following in the footsteps of female ready-to-wear designers such as Anne Klein and Donna Karan.

Photo: AP Photo
Kate Spade posing in her shop.

As Vogue’s Anna Wintour put it in a statement released following the designer’s death, “She launched [Kate Spade] at a time when everyone thought that the definition of a handbag was strictly European, all decades-old serious status and wealth. Then along came this thoroughly American young woman who changed everything. . . There was a moment when you couldn’t walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colourful and unpretentious.” 

Simply put, Kate Spade was an inspiration and a fashion icon to both designers and the general public. The world is still reeling from her loss, and condolences continue to pour in from celebrities and women around the world alike.

Photo: AP Photo
A Kate Spade in New York puts up a memoir of the late Spade.

Innumerable women have taken to the internet to express their grief and reminisce on purchasing their first Kate Spade handbag. In the hours following Spade’s death, Elizabeth Barr remembered, “I bought my first Kate Spade bag in her store in SoHo with my first paycheck. Hers was the first real entrepreneurial story I heard that resonated: She couldn’t find the bag she wanted to carry so she made it herself. How many other young women did she inspire? We all thank her.”

Kate Spade was an icon of femininity and power; of uniquity and staying true to one’s beliefs. She was a treasure to the fashion industry and beyond, and she will be sorely missed.

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

Photo: Kate Spade

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