The death of Kate Spade was a sad shock to me yesterday. I just adored her and her personal style forever. It also hurt in part because she was one of us. She was an American girl, self-made and close in age to so many of us. She was just 55 years old, yet we sort of grew up with her and saw her rise to a household name. She made the accessory every woman needed cool and functional and attainable. She also created a lifestyle brand that was based not on money and status, but on simply enjoying life and finding the fun in it all.
Just Monday unbelievably I was going through a friend’s closet with her and we uncovered her Kate bags and reminisced about how cool they had been. They were of an era that seems so much simpler. The Kate Spade line was different as it bore the almost plain name of an American woman, and by design it was simple too. Those early bags were bare and uncomplicated and yet the height of chic when they first appeared. I remember saving for one of her bags and the exact day I walked into the San Francisco Neiman Marcus to make my purchase. It was a niche line back in the mid 90’s and Neimans was one of the first to carry Kate Spade.
I was young, at my first real job then and liked buying a bag by an American designer and one that few other people had. The Italian made bag was a thick brown shiny leather bag with one simple shoulder handle. The leather and lining were elegant and luxurious and the details were and are still are beautiful. Kate soon became known for her fabric totes- black and Neapolitan ice cream colored stripes being two of the best, and all the cool gals had them. Years later those same women became mothers and the Kate Spade nylon diaper bag became THE bag everyone wanted. What was nice was you could afford a Kate bag. They were pricey, but for the quality you felt it was justified. These were not $1,000 bags. They were bags that most women could aspire to and felt stylish carrying.
The ads for the line were always fantastic!
The sweet ads really reflect a particular age and time in a lot of people’s lives.
I owned five of Kate’s leather handbags over the years and one awesome canvas and orange leather beach tote with romantic writing that my pal Ani gave me. I carried them all for ages and got many compliments on their beauty over the years. Not one of those bags ever fell apart. In fact I recently parted with them under duress and the need to have less. I couldn’t part with the first one though. Except for the first, each of those bags were a gift for a special occasion. I would always ask my husband if we could go to the Kate store and he let me choose my own gifts for Mother’s Days, birthdays and so on. Those bags were all from the 90’s to the early 2000’s when Kate was still head of the company.
The designs were bright and lined with pretty fabrics and super functional. I felt stylish carrying them and yet they just worked wonderfully. In 2006 they sold off the company and it changed its quality and lost much of its nonchalant chic and quirky charm to me.
Besides her great design, Kate herself had amazing personal style. I so enjoyed reading about how she and husband Andy Spade lived. They were real and relatable and not uppity at all. They loved trips to Mexico where she wore authentic Mexican tunics and started the trend for the folk looking caftans and tops. She was a huge lover of baskets as purses and the woven summer bag. They also loved vacations and admitted to enjoying days by the pool spent with piles of magazines. They liked simple pleasures like potato chips and cocktails and fully embraced that proudly.
I loved reading all about their lifestyle in her book Style and also her Manners book. They are genuine gems with lovely watercolors. There is also an Occasions version. There were the three books she originally wrote.
She was also featured in the new book From Napa With Love, which showed her and Andy’s favorite spots and habits as a summer residents. I was hoping I’d spot them out there someday…
A page from From Napa With Love with her summer must-haves.
What people may not realize is that Kate Spade was the pioneer of so much that we call stylish today. Playful writing on bags -that began with her. Brights and contrasting hues- juxtaposed with stripes and graphic dots- all Kate. How about the trends of chunky glittery necklaces paired with simple clothes and stacks of playful bracelets? All were hallmarks of Kate’s personal style- later copied by J.Crew and others. She was also one of the first to use water colors in her ads and in her fanciful stationery that was unlike anyone else. A motto or saying on a cuff bracelet or hidden on the inside clasp was begun by Kate too.
Kate Spade made vintage cool and gave old lady manners and formality a twist that made them chic again. All of this harkens to what we now call high-low style and the appreciation of the mid-century looks we so covet today.
Her home had gallery walls and an artsy mix before that became a thing. Together she and Andy created a stylish sort of cocoon of which they were the main characters- always a bit quirky and truly unique.
Kate made her way of mixing vintage treasures with the finer things it’s own look. The throwaway chic everyone now covets, she was doing decades ago. She was ahead of her time in so many ways. That style went with the message of her brand- enjoy life, don’t sweat the small stuff and have fun doing it. I loved the idea that life doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful and you should create your own kind of cool. .
Lately Kate had begun a new adventure with a line called Frances Valentine with charming bags and shoes that harkened back to her original designs.
To women of my generation, she and her bags represented stages of our lives- the college student, our first real jobs, and later our time as new moms or young wives. Perhaps that is why her passing makes us all a little sad. At 55 life can be hard. No matter the professional or monetary success you may have, life is changing not always for the better. So many people I know are also struggling or have in the past year with depression, hormones, their health and more. No one can truly know what she was suffering, but it must have been very hard and overwhelming. I would never judge and I feel so very sad for her family.
I do hope she knew in some way she was a great role model for American women, living life on her own terms and inspiring us to create our own unique versions of a cool life for ourselves. She gave us more than we know. She was a lovely human being who besides inventing a great product, wanted to share her version of a joyous life we could all have and she will be missed.
Great article, thank you for remembering her this way.
Thanks so much Brooke.
Andrea Dyke says
This is lovely Kim….so on the mark.
Thank you Andrea. Your style and hers are so similar.. Beautiful pieces with great functionality.
Kim- This post almost made me cry! I did not realize why her passing had made me so sad, yet you captured it so beautifully here in your writing. Thank you for your heartfelt reflections and the love and care in which you addressed her very sad ending. Her original line of bags were out of my reach, yet I remember how joyful all the colors were when she expanded her line. Your leather Kate Spade bag is fabulous! You have always had excellent taste I see! Thanks for capturing a very special designer today in your blog. Best! Kathryn Kinsella, a FAN
Kathryn thank you – you are always so kind! I know I am very sad about this. She was a special soul and it’s beyond sad she couldn’t cope with what she was dealing with. I do hope she gets remembered for all she did. I’m so glad I kept my bag too. Thank you.
Thank you for this lovely post Kim. It is so desperately sad.
Patricia I think everyone is shook about this. Very sad. Thank you and thank you for the article. I will read this. Much appreciated .
Kim, I’ve just come across this article by someone who worked with her at the beginning, perhaps you’ve seen it. http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/kate-spade-mademoiselle-remembrance-elizabeth-kiester
Suzanne Bell says
What a wonderful post Kim and tribute to Kate. Such a sad sad day, her passing. My wish is we all remember the joy she bought to so many through her happy style, creativity and personal style. I hope it’s ok for me to share this to my readers on Facebook.
XO (Also very Kate!)
Suzanne,Thanks so very much. I do hope she is remembered in that way. xo
You said it all so eloquently. She seems to resonate for a the generation above 30 especially. I remember when she was just starting out and i got her bag in the mid 90’s on a trip to new york. She was one of the first who was also a real ambassador which was a new concept and she took a chance even though she wasn’t formally schooled. I think this is why we were all taken aback and so sad. It is heartbreaking to think of what she was going through especially on her last day to do it.
PS your blog isn’t updating at all and thank you for telling me xx
i think my comment got deleted…
Such a kind thoughtful post KIM.
I feel like I kind of had my formative years with her and i can’t bear to think what she was going through on her last day…
PS your blog is not updating at all xx
Naomi, I know I thought the same thing…What must have gone through her mind and how desperate she must have felt. Thank you. What about my blog is not updating? I need to know.
Kim, Thank you for a beautiful tribute to Kate Spade…She indeed had an iconic effect on fashion …Kate Spade bags represent a rite of passage for young American women….The outpouring of love and respect these last days has ben heartfelt…I hope she knows how much she is loved…Thank you again…
Thanks so much Dede. Isn’t it amazing the tributes to her? I think she had no idea the impact she had on us all.
What a lovely tribute to someone whose name is certainly a household word in our home. My daughter’s wedding and showers two years ago were all Kate Spade inspired with bright colors, and lots of black and white stripes and polka dots. the love of everything with her name on it is something we share and inspires how we both decorate our homes and how she, in particular, chooses to dress. As a gift to me on her wedding day she gave me a Kate Spade charm bracelet with a daisy charm which is my favorite flower.
Like you, we both were so sad to hear of her passing. In fact my daughter saw it on her feed and immediately emailed me the news. She certainly appeared to have it all, a successful marriage, a daughter she adored and plenty of the freedom the financial success can provide but I will say that her eyes often looks so sad in her photos. My heart breaks for her daughter and her family as I am sure they will have questions that can never be answered and I hope they can find peace believing that she is in a better place and comfort knowing that her gift brought so much happiness and color to many people’s lives for so many years.
I love this tribute and love your blog. I look forward to reading more!
Thanks so much Jen. I enjoy your so much too.
LA CONTESSA says
I HAD JUST FOUND OUT SHE HAD A HOME IN NAPA FROM NAPA WITH LOVE TOO.
WHICH BY THE WAY ALEXIS TRAINIA AND HER HUSBAND ARE NOW IN VIENNA AS AMBASSADOR FOR THE USA!
I WAS DEVASTATED TO SEE THE NEWS COME ACROSS MY PHONE SCREEN!I NEVER BOUGHT HER BAGS OR SHOES.I WAS DONE WITH THE DESIGNER LABELS BY THEN!
I HAVE TO SAY I LOVE HER LOOK!THAT HAIR UP DO IS HOW I WANT TO WEAR MY HAIR DAILY!!!!!!!!
HER FRECKLES ARE ADORABLE AND SHE SEEMS LIKE REAL PEOPLE!!!!!!
I WATCHED AN INTERVIEW WITH HER AND HER HUSBAND YESTERDAY AND EVEN SPEAKING SHE WAS DELIGHTFUL……………I HAVE TO SAY THE DAUGHTER WAS MENTIONED A FEW TIMES……..BY BOTH PARENTS AND I WOULD IMAGINE THAT WAS THE HEART OF HER SUFFERING.WE WILL NEVER KNOW AND ITIS NONE OF OUR BUSINESS BUT THAT LITTLE GIRL WILL MISS HER BIG TIME!
THANK YOU FOR WRITING ABOUT HER AND I’M SO HAPPY YOU KEPT YOUR FIRST BAG!
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PHONE CALL!
THE NEWLYWEDS ARE BACK!!!!!!!!!
WHERE DID THEY GO????
Marla in the OC says
What an eloquent tribute! I still have the simple, boxy black nylon Kate Spade I bought when I went to Paris in the late 90’s. I still remember women on the Metro eyeing that bag!
Kim I read this the other day and I didn’t have time to comment but I had to come back to tell you it was the absolute perfect post for how I was feeling last week. I feel incredibly sad about this. I could cry thinking of how she must have been suffering to have left her daughter like this, she must have been in so much pain.
She was such an inspiration that it really is an absolute shock. Thank you Kim for writing this XOX
Lisa Wells says
Great article on Kate Spade Kim! You captured her style and essence beautifully. I, too, am a Kate Spade fan and still have several of her bags and jewelry from yesteryear and today. I am deeply saddened by her loss and hope that she has found the peace that she was missing.
Vannessa Vinos says
It was so, so sad. I never owned a Kate Spade bag because pre-internet it would have been impossible unless you visited the US so her products were never advertised here in the UK. However, as a business owner one of the best interviews I listened to was a podcast called “NPR- How I Built This” . The interview about how her and her Husband built her company; how they started etc was a masterclass in business and perseverance. I have listened to it so many times but haven’t been able to re-listen to it since her death. It’s just too sad. So sad also that her Dad passed away so soon after.Clearly he died of a broken heart.