How Kate Spade became a household name

Posted at 3:24 PM, Jun 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-05 15:24:05-04

Kate Spade is an iconic name in fashion, synonymous with sleek, sophisticated handbags.

The designer died on Tuesday of an apparent suicide. She left a strong legacy in the fashion industry.

Spade, who grew up in Kansas City, said she never expected to start a handbag company.

In 1986 Spade started working at the fashion magazine Mademoiselle, climbing the ladder until she became a senior fashion editor. But she said in an interview with Fortune Small Business that by 1992, she needed a change. Encouraged by her husband Andy, she quit her job and started designing handbags.

The next year, she launched her eponymous brand. Andy joined the company full-time in 1996.

At the time, the company made just six handbags. They quickly became popular, and the company grew. Kate Spade went from a scrappy purse business to a fashion empire that sold clothing, shoes, jewelry and home goods, competing with bigger companies.

Over time, Spade distanced herself from the business. In 1999, Kate and Andy Spade sold 56% of the business to Neiman Marcus for $33.6 million. Liz Claiborne acquired the company in 2007, and Kate Spade left her namesake brand. In 2017, Coach snapped up the brand in a $2.4 billion deal.

“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,” a Kate Spade spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

But Kate and Andy Spade never stopped working in fashion. In 2016, they launched a new shoes, handbags and accessories company, Frances Valentine, along with their former partners Elyse Arons and shoe designer Paola Venturi.

Over the course of her life, Spade earned many awards and accolades for her work. She has been honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and her designs were featured in an exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York.

Celebrities pay tribute to Kate Spade

On social media, prominent figures mourned Spade’s passing. Chelsea Clinton tweeted, “My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it.”

Celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham and Lucy Hale are among those who have paid tribute to Spade.

“I am heartbroken about the news of Kate Spade. I have worn her clothes many, many times,” Mindy Kaling wrote. “They were colorful, bold, cheerful, and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them.”

“Kate Spade was more than a designer. She had a quirky visual language that captivated Bat Mitzvah girls and artists alike,” Lena Dunham added in a tweet. “She was also a staple of NYC who spread good will. My heart breaks for her family. Thank you, Kate, from one of the millions you made feel beautiful.”

Some of those paying tribute to Spade recalled their first experience with the brand, once perceived to be a status-symbol.

“My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college,” wrote Chelsea Clinton on social media. “I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.”

Rosie O’Donnell sent well-wishes to actor David Spade, who is Kate Spade’s brother-in-law.

Spade married David Spade’s brother, Andy, in 1994.

“All my love to u dave,” O’Donnell said on Twitter.

Kate Spade’s niece, actress Rachel Brosnahan, is the star of Amazon’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

— CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.