News
|12 Jun|5 mins

The Legacy of Kate Spade

“You couldn’t walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colourful and unpretentious.” - Anna Wintour
Kate Tregoning
12 Jun
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In cut-throat ‘90s New York, every nerve-wracking interview and intimidating first job was accompanied by a handbag the owner would never forget. Girl power was coming, but it was still a man’s world, and to some, your ‘It’ bag was a kind of armour, a sign of status and your own personal capability.

As Australians, we may not have fully grasped the phenomenon of the Kate Spade brand, but as a thoroughly modern American, owning your first Kate Spade bag was a rite of passage. At the time, the choices on offer were overly complicated, not to mention distinctly European, so it was more than refreshing when an effervescent, all-American persona burst onto the scene. A testament to how seminal the eponymous designer was, this week US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour stated; “there was a moment when you couldn’t walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colourful and unpretentious.” Which is why Kate Spade’s untimely death has shaken not only the fashion industry, but an entire generation of women.

It began in 1993, after six years as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Katherine Noel Bresnahan and her boyfriend Andrew Spade decided that, since she now knew a thing or two about handbags, she should create her own. Perhaps predicting the success that was to come, Andy encouraged her to combine her first and his last name. They married a year later and she finally became Kate Spade.

News
|12 Jun|5 mins

The Legacy of Kate Spade

“You couldn’t walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colourful and unpretentious.” - Anna Wintour
Kate Tregoning
12 Jun
Share:

In cut-throat ‘90s New York, every nerve-wracking interview and intimidating first job was accompanied by a handbag the owner would never forget. Girl power was coming, but it was still a man’s world, and to some, your ‘It’ bag was a kind of armour, a sign of status and your own personal capability.

As Australians, we may not have fully grasped the phenomenon of the Kate Spade brand, but as a thoroughly modern American, owning your first Kate Spade bag was a rite of passage. At the time, the choices on offer were overly complicated, not to mention distinctly European, so it was more than refreshing when an effervescent, all-American persona burst onto the scene. A testament to how seminal the eponymous designer was, this week US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour stated; “there was a moment when you couldn’t walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colourful and unpretentious.” Which is why Kate Spade’s untimely death has shaken not only the fashion industry, but an entire generation of women.

It began in 1993, after six years as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Katherine Noel Bresnahan and her boyfriend Andrew Spade decided that, since she now knew a thing or two about handbags, she should create her own. Perhaps predicting the success that was to come, Andy encouraged her to combine her first and his last name. They married a year later and she finally became Kate Spade.

The first collection filled a void in the accessories landscape. Understanding city life, she offered the brand new concept of merging practicality and style, with bags that were functional enough to actually work for the modern woman. In a time of excess, she was one of the first to provide pared-back luxury — her early bags were simply finished with a branded black tag. Launching with just a handful of styles, the couple went on to build a $93 million empire that spanned tech accessories, stationery and perfume. Kate Spade’s original creations have gone on to inspire endless designers and be replicated by infinite high street retailers. The now iconic ‘Sam’ bag has stood the test of time, with the label recently celebrating 25 years with a rainbow of new colourways.

The words ‘charm’ and ‘wit’ have peppered every tribute to the designer, and the label, since the sad news broke. It was this signature quirkiness infused into each piece that made Kate Spade so appealing to scores of women the world over. It’s a rare brand that has the ability to shape the way we see ourselves; Kate Spade became synonymous with successful, strong women.

Although she sold her stake in the company in 2006, and later changed her name to Kate Valentine, Kate Spade was seemingly inextricable from the brand (it’s telling that few media outlets have referred to her by her official name, opting for Kate Spade instead). Her mark interwoven into the DNA of every collection, which will now live on, long after she has passed.

So while most of us didn’t know Kate Valentine, in some ways, it feels as though we did. Her label was there for so many of those key life moments: the big interview, that life-changing first job, an important meeting, even a first date. It’s this feeling of a personal connection that makes last week’s news so poignant. While it would seem Kate Valentine was suffering in her personal life, the brand was still bringing countless moments of joy to those who interacted with it. The outpouring of grief over the last week is testament to just how many lives Kate Spade the fashion label, and Kate Valentine the woman, touched.

As actress Mindy Kaling has said, “[she] encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them.” And that was the gift Kate left us, permission to be both powerful and sparkly.

If you, or someone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day.

Kate Tregoning
Lifestyle Editor