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Katherine Noel Valentine Brosnahan Spade (born Katherine Noel Brosnahan; December 24, 1962 – June 5, 2018) was an American fashion designer and entrepreneur. She was the founder and former co-owner of the designer brand Kate Spade New York.
Spade was born Katherine Noel Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, the daughter of June (Mullen) and Francis (Frank) Brosnahan, who owned a road-construction company. She was of mostly Irish descent. After graduating from St. Teresa’s Academy, an all-female Catholic high school, Spade attended the University of Kansas. She later transferred to Arizona State University.
She joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and graduated with a journalism degree in 1985, thinking she would go into television production. While in college, she worked in sales at Carter’s Men Shop, a men’s clothing store in Phoenix; her co-worker was Andy Spade, who later became her husband and business partner.
By 1986, the couple had moved to Manhattan. Kate worked in the accessories department at Mademoiselle magazine. She left Mademoiselle in 1991, achieving the rank of Senior Fashion Editor/Head of Accessories. While working for Mademoiselle, she had noticed that the market lacked stylish, affordable and sensible handbags and decided to create her own.
Kate Spade the brand existed before Kate Spade the person. It was the brainchild of a former Mademoiselle accessories editor named Katie Brosnahan—and her partner in business and life, Andy Spade.
Together Kate and Andy created more than just a line of now-iconic handbags, they created an aesthetic. Though Kate, who died June 5 by apparent suicide at the age of 55, was the face of her collection, especially at the beginning, it was the Spades’ combined talents as a designer and a branding whiz that launched a small-scale fashion revolution. Kate Spade achieved the near-impossible feat of blending it-girl New York cool and down-to-earth Midwestern fun.
How Kate Spade Met Andy Spade
Kate met Andy when they were students at Arizona State University. A native of Kansas City, Brosnahan was a journalism major who had worked in a motorcycle bar and a clothing store. It was there that she met her future husband. “I was on the women’s side. He was on the men’s side. And one day, his car broke down, and he asked me for a ride home. And we really started off as really great friends,” Kate told Guy Raz for an episode of NPR’s How I Built This.
Andy Spade, 55, is the older brother of actor David Spade. He met his wife in the early ’80s when the two of them were co-workers at a clothing boutique in Arizona. “We worked together at a clothing store, and I was on the women’s side,” Kate told NPR. “He was on the men’s side. And one day, his car broke down, and he asked me for a ride home. And we really started off as really great friends.”
Andy and Kate’s daughter, Frances, was born in February 2005. In October 2006, the Spades, along with Arons, sold their minority stake in their company to Neiman Marcus; Liz Claiborne acquired the Kate Spade brand later that year. In 2007, Kate decided to officially walk away from the brand to focus on raising her only child. There are few photos of Frances, but the appearances she has made have naturally always been with her parents.
After designing J.Crew’s Liquor Store, a menswear boutique in downtown Manhattan, Andy launched Partners & Spade in 2008 with partner Anthony Sperduti; the company primarily works on brand development, store designs, and marketing.
In 2015, Kate and Andy announced they were developed another shoe and handbag line, Frances Valentine, named after their daughter and some of Kate’s family members. “Frances is a longtime family name on my dad’s side,” Kate said in a November 2015 WWD interview. “My grandfather, father, brother and my daughter’s name is Frances.
How is Andy related to David Spade?
The actor and comedian David Spade is Andy’s brother.They, along with brother Bryan, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and were raised mainly by their mother after their parents divorced.
David joined Saturday Night Live in 1988.
He has starred in US sitcoms Love and The Mayor.
He’s also acted alongside Adam Sandler in the Do-Over in 2016 and took the starring role in Joe Dirt.
Jack Spade the brand began back in the late 90’s when Andy Spade, married to a certain Kate Spade (yes, that Kate Spade) wanted to create bags for the fellas that “were neither overly precious nor boring basics.” Using items like waxed cotton and heavy canvas the Spade’s churned out straightforward and functional messenger bags that both looked good and got the job of carrying stuff done.
Spade wanted to emphasize the durability of the product over the fashion scene of it, and sold the first bags to a hardware store in1997. By 1999, Jack Spade opened their first store in SoHo with a mix of travel bags, trench coats and general merchandise amongst found furniture, model rockets, vintage Playboys and classic products like Levi’s jeans and Timex military watches.
Over time Andy Spade took same aesthetic of his bags and the shop into a full fledged apparel line for men with rugged (but stylish) pieces for every day men from cozy cable knit sweaters to pants and outerwear. The brand customizes each Jack Spade shop to fit the look and feel of the city it lives in.
In a nod to our green roots (and perhaps our passive aggressive behavior?) Jack Spade Portland includes a stand of live Venus Fly Traps to put on your windowsill. (You’ll have to make your own “Feed me Seymour” sign.)
Kate Spade New York
Kate and Andy founded Kate Spade New York in January 1993. Spade was initially undecided on the brand’s name, because she and Andy had not yet married, and “Kate Brosnahan” seemed a cumbersome name for a fashion label. She considered a number of names, but agreed when Andy suggested “Kate Spade”, as she would take the name Spade after their marriage.
Spade made six prototypes with Scotch Tape and paper, and found a manufacturer in East New York willing to work with a startup to produce the bags. To finance the company, Andy, who had worked as a copywriter, withdrew his 401(k) pension plan and sometimes paid employees with personal checks. The couple spent their shipping season living at friends’ apartments since their own was filled with boxed handbags.
After an early show at the Javits Center at which the department-store chain Barneys ordered a few bags, Spade decided to put the bag’s labels on the outside, a change that took her all night to alter but established the brand.
a real shift
The bags, priced in the $150 to $450 (USD) range, quickly became popular, particularly in New York. That was “a real shift” in fashion, said Fern Mallis, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) during the 1990s. “Everybody had Kate Spade bags. You could afford them, and happily buy more than one.”
Young American women at the time also liked the bags’ sophisticated look. One woman recalled that the Kate Spade bags looked ‘mature, without being too adult for a teenager,’ unlike higher-priced brands such as Burberry or Louis Vuitton. “At the turn of the last century, her bag came to encapsulate a decidedly Manhattan moment in time,” a moment when Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour recalled that it was impossible to walk a block in the city without seeing one.
The company exclusively sold handbags at first, but soon expanded to clothing, jewelry, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby items, fragrances, and gifts. In 1996, the Kate Spade brand opened its first boutique, a 400-square-foot (37 m2) shop in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo district, and moved its headquarters into a 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) space in West 25th Street.
Kate Spade also had two brand extensions called Kate Spade Saturday and Jack Spade. Kate Spade Saturday carried more casual handbags and apparel, but had heavy promotions and eventually closed in 2015. Jack Spade was a menswear line create by Kate Spade which offered men’s leather goods and accessories, but that also closed in 2015.
In 1999, Spade sold a 56% stake in her business to Neiman Marcus Group, helping to expand the brand worldwide.
In 2004, “Kate Spade at home” was launched as a home collection brand. It featured bedding, bath items, china, wallpaper, table decor, flatware, and various decoration items. A Kate Spade store was opened in Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan. Spade also published three books on the respective subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion: Manners, Occasions, and Style.
By 2006, Spade had sold her remaining 44% shares to Neiman Marcus Group. The Group sold the label in 2006 to Liz Claiborne Inc., for $124 million; it was later renamed Fifth & Pacific. The company was later purchased by Coach, Inc. in May 2017; both Coach and Kate Spade are now part of Tapestry, Inc.
After selling the remaining portion of her ownership in her brand, Spade took several years off to focus on her newborn daughter.
In 2016, she launched a new collection of luxury footwear and handbags under the brand name Frances Valentine. The name stemmed from a hybrid of family names; Frances is a family name on Spade’s paternal side. “Valentine” was Spade’s maternal grandfather’s middle name, having been born on Valentine’s Day. Spade later legally added Valentine to her full name.
After Spade’s death, the brand released a collection of designs called “Love Katy” in her memory. Spade had several years’ worth of designs and inspirations for the brand, and the company plans to launch them.
Spade put her knowledge and interest in accessories to work, launching her own brand of handbags in 1993 and opening a small boutique in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan soon after. Her handbags were distinctive for their modern, sleek look, pops of color and utilitarian shapes. Her husband became her partner, and, over the years, their business expanded internationally.
The company, which went on to carry fashion items beyond her signature bags, grew to include several retail outlets and saw its products featured in such high-end stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. In 1996, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored Spade’s classic designs by giving her the “America’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories” award.
Kate Spade went on to offer products in a range of categories, from eyewear to shoes to paper goods, in more than 450 stores globally. While they sold the business to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999 — which was later sold to Fifth & Pacific (formerly Liz Claiborne) in 2006 — the Spades remained active forces within the brand they built.
A housekeeper found Spade dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5, 2018. Her death was ruled a suicide by hanging. Police reported she had left a note addressed to her daughter. The day after his wife’s death, Andy Spade released a statement:
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
Within a week of her death, the flagship Kate Spade New York store in Manhattan (and soon other stores nationwide) displayed a sign in its front window reading:
“Kate Spade, the visionary founder of our brand, has passed. Our thoughts are with her family at this incredibly heartbreaking time. We honor all the beauty she brought into this world”.
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