“Oh my goodness, it was my first bag!’ It became one of the first It Bags.”
25 years ago, one of the most known handbag designers arrived at the idea of starting a handbag company. There are a few designers that have achieved the level of success like Kate Spade had. From her signature nylon handbags to cheerful color palettes, and playful aesthetic, her brand quickly became a beloved company across the country and internationally. The purses she designed became known as a token of adulthood and helped define the look of an era. So, when news of her passing spread on June 5, many felt it personally.
Kate Spade alongside, her then-boyfriend soon to be husband, Andy Spade, founded the Kate Spade brand in 1993 during the boom of business-casual dressing. Kate Valentine Spade was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri where she met Andy Spade while working retail, and together they moved to New York after college. Kate soon enough worked as a fashion assistant at Mademoiselle and was promoted to associate editor, where she was put in charge of accessories. In 1991, she decided to leave the publication to follow her idea to create a handbag line, despite having no formal design training.
“I remember being really embarrassed that I wasn’t a student from Parsons or RISD or FIT…I honestly started with paper.”
Kate began designing her bags by simply using paper and tape. She’d start with big sheets of white paper, cut out and tape the shape, and would go to a pattern maker to help her turn her ideas into real products, which she then took to a trade show to find her first customers. 1996 was pivotal for the brand as she opened her first store in New York’s downtown SoHo neighborhood and the company finally broke even. The company first launched six styles total, ranging in price from $100 to $400 and were soon being sold at stores like Barney’s, Fred Segal, and Charivari.
“At the center of their inaugural collection was the ‘Sam’ bag, that would become one of its signatures.”
The brand started gaining momentum as they were being successful at trade shows and in retail, features in magazines like Vogue, and celebrity endorsements. By 1998 Spade had stores in Boston, Los Angeles, and Tokyo and in 1999, Neiman Marcus bought a 56% stake of the company worth an estimated $33 million.
“One New York Times columnist recalled it as a rite of passage for girls and women in the posh parts of Manhattan.”
Kate Spade New York has grown to become a major American fashion staple with more than $1 billion in annual sales from handbags, as well as clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Although in 2006 Neiman Marcus Group sold Kate Spade to Liz Clairborne, Inc. for $124 million as the brand had been put on the market by the majority stakeholder for about a year before that. The Spades left the company a year later and haven’t been involved with it since. The brand currently has more than 200 total stores around the world, but Kates legacy remains deeply cemented in the fashion world.
“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.”
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