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Kate Spade Handbags


About Kate Spade

There's a woefully short list of the effortlessly stylish that includes women like Catherine Deneuve and the late Audrey Hepburn. Add to that list Kate Spade. The slim, brunette accessories designer has created a brand that captures her classic aesthetic in more ways than one. Spade's label, which appears on the outside of her handbags, barely whispers her name. Wrought in lowercase letters, it's charming, unconventional, and indisputably tasteful: "kate spade."

Of course, Spade's bags have always stood for more than a label. While working at Mademoiselle as a fashion editor from 1986 to 1991, Spade observed a void in the accessories market. "I wasn't seeing a lot of interesting bags," she explains. "Women were carrying these big black or brown bags that they would throw things into and then stow under their desks or under the table at dinner." Spade changed all that when she left the magazine world to take a shot at filling the void. The first collection, launched in 1993, consisted of whimsical little totes full of charm and good taste. Spade designed linen bags for spring in colors like bright pink and green and a pretty mocha brown. She lined them with cotton sateen gingham and trimmed the tops with white flowers that had vibrant yellow centers. The fashion industry wasted no time in snapping them up.

One of Spade's signatures is a no-nonsense, boxy black nylon tote. That classic, introduced shortly after the spring bags that wowed the industry, was the bag that put the Kate Spade label on the arms of fashionistas from coast to coast. Today, Spade's line of accessories has grown to include animal-print bags done in sleek satin; preppy plaid silk shantung bags and footwear in a sexy range of slingbacks, sandals, slides, and mules.

If it sounds like Spade has been busy, it's because she has. But she's had help most notably from her husband and founding partner, Andy Spade, whom she met while attending Arizona State University. In the company's first few years, Andy spent his days in the world of advertising at Manhattan agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA/Chiat/Day, but by night he worked with Spade as the business found its legs. In 1996, Andy joined full-time as president and creative director, and last year he launched a line of men's accessories under the label Jack Spade

There have been moments for the couple when the magnitude of their endeavor and its success has stopped them cold. "We probably first realized that this was big on a vacation to Italy a few years ago," says Spade. "We were at a hotel in Positano when this woman strolled by carrying one of our bags. I said, 'Oh my god,' and I nudged Andy. He knows the nudge quite well by now," she says with a laugh.

The nudge could become a major distraction for the Spades. Their company has grown to include a number of carefully chosen license agreements. Aficionados can now enjoy kate spade sunglasses, launched in the spring of 2001, and in the spring of 2002, Estée Lauder will launch kate spade beauty and skincare products.

The design philosophy that holds the company together is a simple one, illustrated by Spade herself. "When you are defining your own style, it's so important not to be nervous," she explains. "If you've already pulled off a simple, clean look, then you can just add one great piece: shoes or a bag. Find something you're drawn to, something you can't stop thinking about. Enjoy it. Play. I'm a big proponent of owning pieces that you cannot wait to wear. I go in waves of wearing things day and night, like this antique cocktail ring I bought recently," she says, flashing one hand. "You want to find something that speaks to you in a slightly eccentric way.

Over the years, Spade's personal style has stayed a steady course. "Did I ever have a Madonna phase in high school?" she asks rhetorically. "No, overall my style has always been the same," she says. "Some would call it classic, but when I find a piece I adore it doesn't really matter how I would classify it. I'm not too interested in the super basic or the super flamboyant, though; I play with both in a subtle way." And she is not at all interested in following the day's hot trend. Take these ubiquitous chunky-heeled shoes, for example. "I don't care if that trend goes on into eternity," she says."I will not do those shoes."

Who are Spade's style heroines? She cites two women who until now have never been mentioned in the same breath: actress Katherine Hepburn and Icelandic singer Björk. "Hepburn found a look and stuck with it,"she says. "She has always seemed comfortable in her own skin, and she managed to wear man-tailored clothing in a sexy way. Björk is kind of the opposite. She takes greater risks, and her style is more cutting-edge, but at the same time she's playing with fashion like Hepburn; she's dressing up.

Spade also appreciates the comfortable, pulled-together look of the average woman on the streets of Paris. "Parisians tend to use a lot of elements, but it all really works. It's not over thought. If you really think about it too much, the look can become stiff." And yet the designer understands the importance of paring down the elements at times. "I adore coats, the kind you can wear indoors or out. If I'm having a frumpy day, I grab my favorite little trench coat, and I pull it on over a simple skirt or sweater. I wrap myself up in it and wear it all day. It's a great look," she exults. "I'm wearing it right now."


Kate Spade in the News




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