“People always ask me, ‘Where do you find inspiration?’” the late Kate Spade, designer and founder of the eponymous fashion brand, once divulged in an interview with InStyle. “I think it’s a difficult question to answer because — everywhere.”
Spade, fifty-five, was found dead yesterday in her Manhattan apartment, reportedly having taken her own life. Our thoughts are with her family, friends, and colleagues in this tragic time. The fashion world has lost one of its brightest stars; Spade’s creations were bold, beautiful, and playfully colourful, and she herself was an icon for her trailblazing determination and sharp wisdom. Her work was full of passion and life, and so, in the face of tragedy, we celebrate the life of the woman behind the work — a woman who found inspiration wherever she looked.
Born and raised in Missouri, Spade held onto certain Midwestern values throughout her career, even after moving to New York. She cited those values, in an interview with CNBC, as the driving force behind her company’s financially conservative nature. “It’s our personality,” she said. “I come from the Midwest so the idea of recklessly spending money, even though it sounds like a lot of fun, isn’t interesting to me.”
Katherine Noel Brosnahan, as was her maiden name, studied journalism before sliding into fashion by way of editorial work. After graduating from Arizona State University, she made her way east to New York City, where she found a job working in the accessories department of the magazine Mademoiselle. According to Racked, it was here that her attention turned to handbags — or rather, the serious lack thereof. The young Brosnahan was bored with the offerings of classic luxury brands, desiring instead bags that were feminine, fun, and full of personality. Searches left her empty handed, and so she decided to stop looking and start making.
In 1993, Spade launched Kate Spade NY with her husband, Andy Spade, operating out of a small boutique in SoHo. The brand started small, focusing on handbags, but soon expanded to accessories and clothing. Her aesthetic was distinct: functional pieces infused with a healthy dose of femininity and fun. Big brands took note, and soon her playful creations were lining the shelves of Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. In 1996, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honoured Spade’s colourful climb with the “America’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories” award.
Spade’s designs had a voice of their own — literally. Not only were they aesthetically fun, but they (and the walls of her shops) were often emblazoned with clever, quirky slogans. Each painted a picture of the Kate Spade customer; each encouraged us to live vivaciously.
“She looks for adventure around every corner.”
“She danced all night and all the way home.”
“She is quick and curious and playful and strong. She is a voracious reader and a fantastic dancer. She saves old snapshots but always loses her umbrella. Her emails pile up, but she never forgets to call her grandmother. She has $7 in change at the bottom of her handbag.”
These words could be interpreted as a directive, a call to action. They encouraged a life that balanced ambition with a carefree lust for all things pretty and unapologetically unique. With the launch of “Kate Spade at Home” in 2004, that signature joie de vivre could now be found in a line of décor items, stationary, and kitchenware.
A New Direction
In 2006, Spade sold her remaining stake in the brand (she had initially sold majority shares to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999) to focus on raising her daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade. This shift from businesswoman to motherhood was beautifully celebrated with Spade’s next venture; in 2016, she launched a new luxury fashion brand called Frances Valentine, named for her daughter and her grandmother. This transition between brands, and focus on family, was symbolically fortified when Spade legally changed her surname to Valentine in 2016.
Remembering A Visionary
As Spade’s passing is being heavily felt by friends, family, fans, and the industry, we look to one of those iconic Kate Spade slogans to remember her — one that so perfectly immortalizes Spade’s unique personality and flair.
“She makes the day brighter, she leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.”