An icon synonymous with shaping the quintessential image of contemporary American accessories today, Kate Spade was a designer who left an indelible impact on the fashion industry. Her whimsical, brightly coloured handbags bridged the gap between High-street and Luxury fashion, infusing a playful charm and accessibility into the industry that had been strictly exclusive back in the ‘90s. The purses and accessories she made became a status symbol well-coveted by women.
Spade was found dead Tuesday (June 5) in New York in what was said to be a suicide by hanging.
Her namesake label, Kate Spade New York, issued a statement confirming the "incredibly sad news" of their eponymous founder's death.
"Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand. Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time."
Tributes to Spade have since been pouring in — from celebrities like Chelsea Clinton to Reese Witherspoon, to everyday women and industry leaders who admired what she stood for. “Kate Spade had an enviable gift for understanding exactly what women the world over wanted to carry,” Anna Wintour said in a statement.
I am heartbroken about the news of Kate Spade. I have worn her clothes many, many times. They were colorful, bold, cheerful, and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them. You couldn’t walk into her boutiques and not smile. Rest In Peace, Kate.
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) June 5, 2018
My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) June 5, 2018
My heart and prayers go out to Kate Spade and her family. What a wonderful, talented woman who will be dearly missed.
— Reese Witherspoon (@RWitherspoon) June 5, 2018
Spade’s legacy first started when she left her role as an Accessories Editor at Mademoiselle magazine to set up her own handbag company with her husband in 1993. Quickly climbing the ranks to be as popular as legacy designer brands such as Gucci, the brand’s sales reportedly jumped from $100,000 in 1993 to $27 million in 1998. It was a hit amongst celebrities too, such as A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder and the Olsen twins spotting handbags from the brand back in the ‘90s.
Over time, she distanced herself from the business. In 1999, Spade’s and her husband sold a 56 per cent stake in the business to Neiman Marcus fand by 2006, they had parted from the brand completely, selling their remaining stakes.
Few could have done it better than Spade when it came to designing zippy signatures with a personality, and even fewer could bring to the world the kind of pure joy associated with her charming designs. Cheerful and quirky, her creations came in the form of unexpected shapes — like typewriters, a Dalmatian, or a vintage car — and brought a smile to our faces time after time.
The Sam bag
One of Spade’s most famous piece from the ‘90s is the Sam bag, which has a boxy silhouette varnished in black glossy nylon with a little black tag and the name “Kate Spade New York” in white lettering affixed at the front. Back then in its heyday, the Sam bag was an “it” bag which every woman — and teenage girl — wanted. Priced between US$150 and US$450 in the noughties, the sophisticated and grown up-looking bag was aspirational, yet attainable for teenage girls who wanted a taste of luxury. Working women desired them as a status symbol, a mark of professional accomplishment.
For its Spring 2018 collection, Kate Spade New York saw the triumphant revival of the iconic bag, adding modern elements to it such as 3D appliqués, and leather and wicker fabrications.
What’s truly revolutionary about the bag is the use of the material nylon. In 2015, Spade’s husband and the brand’s co-owner Andy Spade told WWD, "We were the first in America to work with nylon. We got lucky." Today, we see plenty of handbags and apparels in nylon, marking Kate Spade as one of the pioneering designers who made the versatile fabrication chic.
In 2015, after Spade had parted with her eponymous label, she was on to a new venture: launching a new shoe and purse brand, Frances Valentine. Named after her now 13-year-old daughter, as well as several other members of Spade's family, the brand incorporates the same bright and tongue-in-cheek signatures that she was always known for.
In the wake of Spade’s death, the fate of Frances Valentine remains unclear.
To pay homage to the late designer, we've picked out the best Kate Spade New York pieces to own right now: