In 1986, Kate Spade found work in the accessories department of Mademoiselle in Manhattan. She was then known by her maiden name Kate Brosnahan. While at Mademoiselle, she moved in with Andy Spade, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona.
At Mademoiselle, Spade’s talent was acknowledged as she grew from being a mere designer to senior fashion editor and eventually head of accessories. While working at Mademoiselle, Spade soon realized the dearth of stylish yet sensible handbags in market. Handbag, until then, was not an explored genre of accessories and there was a lack of fashion sense being applied to them. They were plain and simple keeps for holding necessities while at go.
With an earnest desire to start up an entrepreneurship to give her creative energies a new direction, Spade left Mademoiselle in 1991. She decided to create her own range of stylish and chic handbags. Together with Andy Spade, she was a team, both professionally and personally.
Debuting with just six silhouettes, Kate Spade launched her own brand of handbags. What made her handbags distinct from those in the market was their modern yet stylish approach. They were sleek with bouts of colour and available in utilitarian shapes.
In 1996, with increasing demand, ‘Kate Spade Handbags’ was born in a plush area in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district. The first boutique, a 400-square-foot shop, was a hit in the fashion circle. Eventually, she moved its headquarters into a 10,000-square-foot space in West 25th Street.
As the name implies, Kate Spade Handbags initially sold only handbags. However with the increasing demand, they extended their product range to clothing, jewellery, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby items, fragrances, and so on. In 2004, ‘Kate Spade At Home’ was launched as a home collection brand. It featured bedding, bath items, tabletops, wallpaper and various items for the home.
In 1999, Neiman Marcus Group purchased 56% stake in the Kate Spate brand. to the Neiman Marcus Group. Until then, the brand worked primarily from its boutique stores. After its partnership with Neiman Marcus group, the brand grew at a rapid pace and started selling its products through high-end stores like Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue.
In 2004, the brand crossed its geographical boundaries and went international by opening a store in Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan. In the same year, ‘Kate Spade At Home’ was launched as a home collection brand. It featured bedding, bath items, tabletops, wallpaper and various items for the home.
Despite selling 56% stake to Marcus Group, Spade continued to remain active in the brand that she had built. She overlooked at its creative output and was extremely conscious of its product line-up. Alongside her fashion chain, in 2004, Spade came up with three books in which she shared her personal style and philosophies.
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In 2006, Spade sold the remaining 44% of her stake to Neiman Marcus Group and took time off to raise her son. The Group then sold the Kate Spade label for a whooping $124 million to Liz Claiborne Inc., which was later renamed to Fifth & Pacific.
Around the same time that Spade gave away her label, she, together with her husband, invested in Plum TV, a small television network that broadcasts in the elite vacation spots: the Hamptons, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard.
In February 2014, Fifth & Pacific changed its name to Kate Spade & Company. Craig A. Leavitt became the new CEO, succeeding William McComb. Today, Kate Spade New York has over 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the United States and more than 175 shops internationally. Their products are sold in more than 450 stores worldwide.
In 2016, Spades along with their long-time friends, Elyce Arons and shoe designer Paola Venturi, launched a new brand called Frances Valentine, a collection of luxury footwear and handbags. The names Frances and Valentine are from her family members and she added the two names to her own legal name.
Awards & Achievements
In 1996, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded her with America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories for her classic designs. Two years later, CFDA yet again honoured her for ‘Best Accessory Designer of the Year’.
In 1999, Kate Spade was honoured when her handbags were exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt Museum for the first national design triennial, celebrating American design excellence.
In 2004, Spade’s home collection won her three design awards, House Beautiful’s ‘Giants of Design Award for Tastemaker’, Bon Appetit’s ‘American Food and Entertaining Award for Designer of the Year’, and Elle Decor’s ‘Elle Decor International Design Award for Bedding’.
The Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri, Kansas City inducted her in the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2017. Same year, Fact Company named her one of the Most Creative People in Business.