With her irreverent style and bookish glasses, Spade was unmistakable, pedaling on a three-speed Schwinn bicycle — wicker basket intact and leopard coat afloat — along the Manhattan streets. The designer was big on biking for transportation long before Citibike, or designated bike lanes, appeared in the city. Occasionally dressed like she may have stepped out of “The Official Preppy Handbook,” Spade was always unabashed about embracing color. She and Andy were also highly stylized in their marketing and in-store displays, taking an arty approach to curated retail well before others jumped into the fold.Before they were Kate Spade the brand, the Spades were college sweethearts from the Midwest, she from Kansas City and he from Arizona. After graduation, they were New York-bound with her working as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle and him delving into advertising at TBWA/Chiat/Day. In a 2013 interview with WWD, the couple recalled how they sort of fell into fashion. Musing about starting a company one night over dinner at an Upper West Side Mexican restaurant, he suggested Spade start her own handbag company since she was an accessories aficionado. When she suggested, “It’s not like you can just start a handbag company.” He told her, “Well, why not?”
The then yet-to-be-wed pair decided Kate Spade had a better ring to it. Knowing she wanted simple, straightforward totes, Spade also recognized the market consisted of Coach, European brands and a slew of hardware going on. Her first samples were made of linen and burlap — the only choice — for a no-name designer with no track record and no minimums. Eventually, they morphed into durable nylon bags — 10 in navy and 10 in black — for their first trade show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. But that was just enough for Barneys New York’s Judy Collinson and Vogue’s Candy Pratts Price, who liked what they saw and supported the brand accordingly.
“I believe Kate first started with the straw bags that were very Fifties,” said Pratts Price, Vogue’s former accessories director. “She always had that sensibility of cheerful, lollipop colors; it was a very Kate Spade look. This was pre-us even knowing Magnolia Bakery or macaroon colors. Kate was not giving you goth, and she was not giving you a period of cinema noir or anything. There was nothing hard about this. This was all very cheerful, very colorful. And she was. That’s what I remember. I’m sure I covered her bags in my pages The Last Look, because they were always wonderful, structured shapes. And there were the cute nylon bags — before we all got into big-time nylon. You could call on her and say, ‘We’re doing the beach and we need straw bags’ and she would do it. She was such a good player. There was never any darkness. She was very happy with what she sewed. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m just doing this.’ She was doing it with great love.”