Everyone remembers their first 'Kate Spade'

Published 5th June 2018
Everyone remembers their first 'Kate Spade'
Written by Kate Bennett, CNN
Everyone remembers their first "Kate Spade." In the wake of news of the designer's tragic death -- an apparent suicide -- social media lit up with personal stories of the first purchase, or gift, from the iconic line of handbags and wallets, belts, shoes, sunglasses and paper goods. Women posted pictures of their purses, showing the simple Kate Spade logo, spade symbol above the name, "New York," below.
Kate Spade the brand (Spade's given name was Katherine Brosnahan) launched in 1993 and became synonymous with entry-level fashionistas everywhere. Quickly, it established itself as the label to buy when one is ready to shift from no-name-brand to designer.
Spade, a former accessories editor for Mademoiselle magazine, understood that notion all too well; the line was born out of Spade's own desire for bags that were timeless and well-made, but also served a purpose as a purse, not an overpriced prop.
"I think her collection, like Kate, herself, was really spirited," says Robbie Myers who left Elle Magazine in 2017 after serving 17 years as editor in chief. "Like a Lily Pulitzer, or a Tory Burch, there was a strong identification between who she was as a person and her designs."
Kate Spade posing in front of her designs.
Kate Spade posing in front of her designs. Credit: Bebeto Matthews/AP
Spade also paved the way for more solo female designers, such as Burch, to emerge and create their own brands in the 1990s and 2000s, including Anna Sui and Jenna Lyons, women whose lines also reflected their uncommon personal aesthetic.
Spade's success, which became retail gold in the late 1990s, didn't go unrecognized. In 1999, Spade and her husband, Andy Spade, also her business partner, sold 56% of the company to Neiman Marcus for $34 million; seven years later, the couple, along with two business partners, unloaded the remaining 44% to Neiman Marcus for $59 million.
Spade's golden touch was very much a reflection of her own personality. She was quirky, and eccentric, often photographed wearing cat-eye glasses and chunky necklaces, primary colors and clothes with silhouettes from a bygone era. Her designs spoke to the things that spoke to her.
"She brought back some shapes from the 40s and 50s with her accessories," says Myers, "but they also felt brand new to a younger generation."
It was that connection to the late-teens-to-mid-twenties crowd that helped seal Spade's iconic legacy.
"For a lot of young women, a Kate Spade was their first investment piece, where you go from being a kid to a being a bonafide young woman," says Myers, who last saw Spade about a year ago when the two met for lunch." Her bags were Kate -- joyful and fun, but still, grown up."
A detail shot of Kate Spade bags during New York Fashion Week in 2014.
A detail shot of Kate Spade bags during New York Fashion Week in 2014. Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images
In recent years, Spade had hoped lightning might strike twice. She and Andy Spade launched Frances Valentine in 2016, named for the first and middle names of their daughter, now 13. The brand gave Spade the creative outlet she craved, and one that she hadn't been able to use for several years prior. Although she saw her name on all sorts of products, from socks and stationery to luggage tags and clip-on earrings, with tags labeled Kate Spade New York, the mind behind them wasn't Spade's own.
Oftentimes when designers sell their lines to larger conglomerates, their names go with the sale, as well as the right to determine what exactly that name represents. It can be frustrating for a designer, reaping the financial rewards but trading it for creative peace of mind.
Spade, who went so far as to change her name to Kate Valentine when she launched the new line -- which has a very similar, preppy aesthetic as the original Kate Spade -- clearly was trying to make a go of it in the fashion industry again in the recent years before her death. But she was adamant Frances Valentine was new, and not simply a Kate Spade reboot, telling InStyle magazine in 2016: "I definitely went into this not wanting to repeat what I've done or what's being done through my namesake. I respect what they're doing and what I did then, but it's important that there's a distinction and that you can feel it."
Sadly, Spade won't be alive to see whether her second brand will surpass the success of her first. In a statement released today, her family said: "We are all devastated by today's tragedy. We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time."