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The Enduring Joy of Kate Spade

My personal tale of how one bag led to a lifelong love of fashion.
Kate Spade New York Spring 2019 presentation. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Kate Spade New York Spring 2019 presentation. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

As a girl who came of age in the early aughts, I'm sure the memory of my first encounter with Kate Spade is not a particularly unique one, but that doesn't make it any less special. My mom took me shopping for a Christmas gift my senior year of high school in Florida; I was finally old enough to be given my first Grown-Up Purse, a bag that I would carry with me as I moved away from home and out into the real world the following summer. 

I don't mind telling you that I actually had my heart set on a Louis Vuitton Multicolore Speedy, as it was the "It" bag (or, as I suspect now, the "It" knockoff) of choice for the girls in my school's 2004 graduating class. My mom gamely took me to the Louis Vuitton counter, tucked away inside Saks Fifth Avenue. I'm sure she spent the whole time praying I would fall for something slightly less expensive than the Speedy I dangled thoughtfully from my arm, which came with a healthy dose of sticker shock. Something about that bag didn't look right on me, I decided, and I knew the price was too high, even if I felt slightly deflated about the whole thing. 

But then, in Nordstrom, I found The One. It was a beautiful, squared-off bag in the most perfect color — "Tomato Red," per the tag — lined with navy and white stripes and stamped with the simplest logo: "Kate Spade New York." The size was just right for a 17-year-old, and the price was just right for my mom. I had to wait until Christmas to open it, but it quickly became one of my most prized possessions. The pride with which I wore that bag to school on our first day back! I carefully tucked my pens in protective cases so as not to ruin that beautiful lining, and I loved the way that bright red popped against everything I wore. Best of all, it did for me what all the best fashion pieces are meant to do: It made me feel different. It made me feel like my best self. It made me feel special

At the time, I was not a capital-F fashion fanatic. I didn't know that Kate Spade, the brand, was run by Kate Spade, the person — just like I didn't know or notice when she sold the brand in 2006. Those were all things I would discover as I grew older and became more interested in the inner workings of the industry and, eventually, became a part of it myself.

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Discovering Kate Spade, the person, was just as incredible as discovering that red bag. I had the pleasure of speaking with her briefly at her fashion week return in 2016, shortly after she launched her brand Frances Valentine. I remember distinctly how bubbly she was, how full of life and full of laughter those short minutes seemed. You could tell that she cared deeply — about her product, yes, but also about me, about her guests and about her team. Her attention would flit away to fixing a display, or making sure I didn't need water, all things that could drive an interviewer crazy, but which felt inherently charming to me. I was talking to the Kate Spade, after all! When the interview went live, so many friends and loved ones — all of whom were women — sent me messages about how jealous they were that I had met Kate Spade. The Kate Spade!

Despite not knowing her well, I felt devastated when I heard the news about her untimely death, and I was not alone: So many of those same women messaged me expressing their sadness that she was gone. The thing about Kate Spade, the reason her brand connected with so many women and resonates still today, is that she imbued fashion with so much joy. It wasn't about exclusivity, it wasn't about being expensive, it wasn't about being the skinniest or the prettiest or the best dressed person in the room; it was about being yourself, and expressing that joy through your clothes. Wear color! Wear a dress you can spin and dance in! Wear a wicker bag or a giant bow or piles of sparkles!

The author in Kate Spade New York. Photo: @eiffeltyler/Instagram

The author in Kate Spade New York. Photo: @eiffeltyler/Instagram

I don't have that red bag anymore; somewhat fittingly, I ultimately consigned it to add to my savings for moving to New York City. However, I still love to wear Kate Spade New York; though Kate Spade herself left in 2006, that spirit of happiness is still so present in the brand's collections. I feel joy when I put on a dress sprinkled with sequined cherries, a pair of boots covered in silver sparkles (which you can see me wearing above), a bag buckled with giant pearls. 

Beyond a brand bearing her name, that's the legacy that Kate Spade leaves behind: Joy. May the same one day be said for the rest of us.

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