“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". –Kate Spade
The name Kate Spade is synonymous with fashion accessories; namely her chic, enduring handbags. But there was a real person behind the brand, the real Kate Spade. She was an entrepreneur, mother, wife, daughter, and role model for women looking to other inspirational women for encouragement in their own endeavors. Sadly, she passed in her New York City home on June 5, 2018. Her life may have been short, but it was incredible. Here’s some facts to help remember her by.
1. Don’t Like Them? Join Them!
The main reason why Spade created a line of handbags? She didn’t like what she saw in stores and couldn’t find one she wanted. It’s literally that simple! “I was looking for something that could be less serious. More personal,” she told The Boston Globe back in 1999. “I also wanted timelessness".
2. All in the Family
On Christmas Eve, 1962, Katherine Noel Brosnahan came into the world in Kansas City, Missouri. And if that last name sounds familiar, maybe you watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. Spade’s niece, Rachel Brosnahan, plays the titular Mrs. Maisel. Oh, and that other famous last name? Well, her husband Andy is the brother of comedian David Spade.
3. Kate Valentine, at Your Service
Her last name is a bit up for grabs. Sure, she was born as a Brosnahan and married into being a Spade, but she actually started using the surname of Valentine even before she was a married woman. "Valentine" was courtesy of her mother’s father. He was born on Valentine’s Day, so his parents made it his middle name. In 2016, she legally changed her name to "Kate Valentine".
4. All Part of a Balanced Diet
Fun fact: she drank Diet Pepsi at breakfast. Now that’s adulting at its finest (we’ve all been there, let’s face it). “When my daughter wants some, I tell her there are certain things that adults can do that kids can’t. My life is a little kooky but a lot of fun". She also admitted that she drinks smoothies at breakfast, so she has some semblance of being a proper adult too–especially since she added kale to them.
5. A Match Made in Clothing Heaven
While studying journalism at Arizona State University in the early 1980s, she met Andy Spade, the man whom she would go on to marry. They were working at the same clothing store, she on the women’s side and he on the men’s side. “One day, his car broke down, and he asked me for a ride home. And we really started off as really great friends". The rest, as they say, was history.
6. Made for Motherhood
Spade’s daughter, Frances Beatrix, was born 11 years into her marriage to Andy. After Frances was born, Spade decided to step away from the business, saying, “I, personally, I don't know about Andy–took off a good nine years raising my daughter and absolutely adored every moment of it".
7. An Accessories Maven
She graduated with her journalism degree right smack dab in the 80s–1985 to be exact. She moved to New York City for a job at Mademoiselle magazine, where she finished out the decade. During her time there, she earned a couple new titles: senior fashion editor and head of accessories. Yeah, those sound about right.
8. Good Things Come in Small Packages–Even Stores
Spade spent no time after leaving Mademoiselle in 1991. Just two short years later, she had her own line of handbags ready for the market! She even had her own small boutique store in the New York neighborhood of SoHo. It was tiny though! Just about 400 square feet. Compare that to the current headquarters, which is well over 10,000 feet.
9. Mrs. Potato Bag
In the early days, when she was first creating her bags, she used a potato sack manufacturer as her first supplier. No kidding! The first sample was described as “a square bag mocked up in burlap (her supplier was a potato-sack manufacturer she found in the yellow pages) and woven with raffia fringe". You do what you have to, right?
10. Everything Under the Moon, Basically
She didn’t stop at just handbags, even back then. Soon, she was creating anything from shoes and eyewear to paper products. That’s not all–she also designed clothing, shoes, fragrances, dinnerware and so much more! By the end of the millennium, her products were being sold in over 450 stores all over the world. It’s safe to say she was becoming a household name already!
11. To P or not to P
Have a Kate Spade product? Take a look at its label. Notice anything? Well, it’s all lower case. And if you happen to see an upper-case P, then–we hate to break it to you–it’s a knockoff. Actually, if you head over to the Kate Spade website, you’ll notice that upper case letters are hard to come by!
12. One Person’s Junk is Another’s Treasure
Maybe she got her inspiration from places like flea markets and second-hand stores? Before and even during her time at Mademoiselle you’d often spot her at them, which led her to look into the variety of materials and styles available, along with costs for production.
13. Everything Old Is New Again
One of her first handbag designs was known as the Sam bag. She saw much success with the nylon, boxy bag that merged sleekness with practicality. Just recently, the company announced it was bringing the bag back, just with a few modern updates.
14. Makin a Name, not a Brand
The Kate Spade brand name wasn’t because it was her married name and it was just easy to do; no, there’s a bit of a story behind it. Originally, she was thinking Olive, but she and Andy combined her first name with his last name (they weren't married yet) and he just kept repeating it. “Andy kept saying ‘Kate Spade. Kate Spade,’” she said during an interview with The Boston Globe. “I loved Olive for some reason. But Kate Spade wasn’t frilly. It was just straightforward. It wasn’t a fashion-y name".
15. Earning Her Stripes
It didn’t take long for Spade to receive accolades for her business ventures. In 1996, she was awarded “America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories” by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. By that time, she had more of her own stores open for business and big-name, high-end stores stocking her items. You would find her products at the likes of Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
16. Oh, Shiny!
Spade loved jewellery–a lot. In a 2016 interview with The Wall Street Journal, it’s quite evident how much she loved jewellery of any kind, especially costume. “I buy so much fake jewelry, it’s funny,” she said. “It’s not real. I don’t wear real diamonds or anything". She also admitted to always looking for a piece of jewellery that no one else had.
17. Pearls Were This Girl’s Best Friend
Okay, so she loved costume jewellery. But she also loved a certain set of pearls her husband once bought for her, calling it the best gift she ever received. “I told Andy, ‘Don’t buy me expensive pearls. I’m just a normal pearl girl. Do not go to Mikimoto.’ Because I said don’t, he went right there". Fellas, are you taking notes?
18. Growing the Empire
Not just interested in creating products, Spade moved on to writing books and investing in a television station. She’s the author of three books: Manners, Occasions, and Style. Plum TV, the small station she and her husband took interest in, only broadcast to a small area–Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons, and Nantucket.
19. Changing Hands and Brands
Spade and her husband decided to sell the majority of their venture in 1999 to one of the retailers selling her products, the Neiman Marcus Group. They in turn sold it to Fifth & Pacific, the former Liz Claiborne, in 2006. The whole brand was also sold in 2006, as Spade wanted to have a bigger role in her new daughter’s life. Eventually, it all got rebranded again, this time to Kate Spade & Co. and eventually was sold to another competitor, Coach. That deal cost over two billion dollars!
20. Smart Thinking
She admitted that she and Andy took things slow in the early stages of the business, but doesn’t regret it. “The pressure and encouragement to keep going into different categories was big,” she told Fortune Magazine in 2003. She said that they wanted to set up their shoe line the same way they did the handbag line, so that the shoes would still be a healthy business venture if everything else went away.
21. Once a Designer, Always a Designer
Spade couldn’t stray too far from designing new accessories. Just in 2016, she, her husband, and close friends collaborated for a new line called Frances Valentine. Something else that she released in 2016 and 2017? Purses, phone accessories, and jewellery all with a Minnie Mouse theme.
22. Smelling Like a Rainbow
Even before that new line, she dabbled in perfume! In 2013, she released “Live Colorfully,” which helped to celebrate 20 years of the brand being in business. Made in-house, there’s also a card in the packaging that goes into the road Spade and her husband took getting to that point.
23. More Power to Them
She was also involved in endeavors other than designing new handbags or accessories. She supported Women for Women International, an organization that aims to make women’s lives better in places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. In 2014, about 150 Rwandan women designed accessories for the company, which sold in stores under the name On Purpose.
24. Started From the Bottom, Now She's Here
Her brand has taken on a life of its own in the many years it’s been in business. It’s estimated that, at the time of her passing, Spade was worth anywhere between $150 million to $200 million.
25. If at First You Don't Succeed
We may never have even known Kate Spade! She was upset after one of her first trade shows, telling her husband that she hadn’t made enough sales that day to even cover the cost of the booth rental. But Andy didn’t let her give up and encouraged her to keep going. He asked her if any orders had been placed–and there had. Barneys and Fred Segal saw something in her handbags they liked. “You've got two of the best stores in America,” Andy told her. “Why are you crying? Let's not quit". And we’re so glad she listened!
26. Changing Lives, One Handbag at a Time
Spade took pride in her designs and company. During an interviewing with The Boston Globe she mentioned how, in the early days of her company, she once saw a woman on the street with one of her bags and she couldn’t help but feel upbeat about it. “There's a woman with a Kate Spade bag. You know what I love? She's a professional. She's in a smart suit. But she's an individual … Fashion can't feel like a costume".
27. That Could Have Been Very Awkward
Spade said that once, while shopping at a Kate Spade store with her daughter, she was asked if she was on the mailing list. She replied that she didn’t think she was and signed up using her maiden name instead. She said that her daughter kept nudging her during the whole encounter, hoping her mother would speak up–but she didn’t. In the NPR interview, she said “I remember thinking, you know, no, I'm not on your mailing list, but I think I helped create it".
28. A Sad End
When word spread about Spade’s passing, it came as a huge shock to everyone. Law enforcement announced that the housekeeping staff were the ones to find her in her home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. In a statement from her family released on the same day, they said they are “devastated by today’s tragedy".
29. A Vow Made Is a Vow Kept
There’s been a lot of talk about discord in the couple’s marriage. When talking about her life with Andy, she said that taking the good with the bad and having a lot of humor were keys to making it last. “You take those vows seriously,” she said. “Through good and bad". In an interview with The New York Times published just days after her passing, her husband acknowledged that they had been living apart for the last 10 months, but no talk of divorce ever came up. “We loved each other very much and simply needed a break,” he said.
30. Behind Those Happy Eyes
As more developments of her passing were released, it was evident that it was due to taking her own live. In his interview with The New York Times, Andy acknowledged that she had suffered from anxiety and depression for years. “She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock". Despite the fact that they were living apart, it was only by a few blocks and they continued to act like a family would, even taking vacations together with their daughter. We just hope that she’s found her peace, and her name will live in on the brand she dedicated the better part of her life to creating.