Kate Spade: The Loss of a Fashion Icon
I thought long and hard before deciding to commit words to this post. There was the feeling of having some things I wanted to say, coupled with whether it would be appropriate to say anything at all. After all, it's not as though I knew her. Like so many others, my only impression of Kate came through her work, her creations and the external veneer of her life.
Sadly, on June 5th, 2018, it was announced to the world that Kate Spade had died at the age of fifty-five. Found in her Manhattan home by a housekeeper, Spade’s tragic death was ruled a suicide, and with just a few short days until the similar death by suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, the worlds of fashion and food were both left reeling and mourning for two of their brightest stars. The death of a rich, famous individual always causes waves of remembrance and nostalgia in the immediate aftermath, and for a certain demographic of women, the name Kate Spade came to represent something that began in simple fashion but branched out in to a much wider aspect of life.
“I think that playing dress up begins at age five and never truly ends.”
From starting in the accessories department at Manhattan’s Mademoiselle magazine in 1986, to forming Kate Spade Handbags with husband Andy Spade in 1993, to launching the Kate Spade at Home range in 2004, the Kansas City born businesswoman always had a razor-sharp eye and mind when it came to tapping into the psyche and needs of young, impressionable women.
"I think the details and the quality are so important that it has to have an emotional tug. Even if it's the simplest shoe, it has to have something that says, 'Oh, I have to have you."
After noticing a niche in the market for handbags that were both stylish, sophisticated and functional, Kate set about filling it with her own designs, designs that would come to be regarded as nothing short of iconic. To own a Kate Spade handbag was more than just being able to buy a pretty thing for yourself. It marked a step up in maturity for the buyer and become almost a rite of passage for any aspiring young woman. Her designs succeeded in not only being fashionable and desirable to a young, impressionable demographic, but the price points at which they were pitched made them an achievable luxury to obtain.
“In order to lead a fascinating life, one brimming with art, music, intrigue, and romance; you must surround yourself with precisely those things.”
For any teenage girl or young woman, the prospect of a Chanel or Gucci bag is only realistic to a lucky few, but at a juicy but tangible $150 to $450 dollars, there was a sense of motivation and pride in being able to save up one’s allowance and weekend up job pay checks to be able to afford a Kate Spade original. What cannot be underestimated is the sense that she wasn’t just selling a well-made, fairly-priced handbag; she was selling a form of maturity and independence that is an important part of every young girl’s journey to womanhood. You might not think that a simple handbag could hold so much sway and power in a woman’s life, but you only need to consider the gargantuan prices of the truly high-end boutiques, and the fact they sell in their droves, to see that yes, fashion accessories do indeed have a bearing on a person’s identity.
“It’s a far, far better thing to be overdressed than under-dressed.”
And importantly, the identity that Kate Spade cultivated in her designs was one of respectable, sophisticated, stylish fashion that didn’t have to come at the price of four or five maxed out credit cards. As an introduction to the world of feminine fashion design and accessories, Kate Spade became almost the godmother of a generation of young girls and young women who were seeking to better themselves in an affordable and respectable way.
The legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour once famously stated that “it was impossible to walk a block in the city without seeing” one of Kate’s trademark bags. The city in question, of course, being New York. To have such a monopolistic grasp of a such a diverse demographic is a true testament to the power and impact of Kate Spade. Whether you were a young girl in the Upper East Side or a young girl in Atlanta, Georgia, you wanted a Kate Spade bag.
“Think, Travel, Celebrate, Charm, Decorate, Dress, Live – colorfully”
There is absolutely no denying the influence that the ‘Kate Spade model’ has had on the fashion industry in the years since her meteoric rise to fame and fortune. Before her successful business model was shown to be effective, designer accessories were reserved for the rich, but thanks to her ability to see an opportunity in the market, the luxury and privilege of being able to save up and own your own collection of designer goods is no longer something that is seen as unachievable. Kate Spade was one of the first designers to make accessible luxury a real thing. It might seem insignificant to some, but to any teenage girl who dreamed of replicating the style of her favorite stars, it was a magical movement that brought her world and their world that little bit closer together.
"She looks for adventure around every corner."
Kate Spade was a design visionary. A genius whose talent for recognizing the needs of women will never be forgotten. A candle whose light burns so brightly and fiercely is always in danger of running out of wick too soon. A tragic conclusion to a brilliant, artistic life that we have sadly seen too many times before. Thank you, Kate, you will be missed, but your designs will live on forever.
In Kate’s own words “She who leaves a trail of glitter shall never be forgotten.”