The year was 1993 and she had just launched her line of handbags. I was twenty-two years old, living at home and starting to interview for my first real office job. In anticipation of my upcoming interviews, I had printed out copies of my resume, placed them in a manila envelope and even went over the most standard interview questions to ensure I wasn’t caught off guard. I was all set or so I seemed to think when my phone rang.
Kate Spade came into my life as I entered adulthood.
“Are you ready for your interviews?” my high school best friend, Jen asked on the other end of the line.
“Yeah, pretty much,” I replied.
“What are you gonna wear?” she said.
Suddenly, I felt a lump form in my throat. What was I going to wear? I hadn’t even thought about it. I was so busy working on my resume. “I’m not sure, yet,” I said.
“Ok, then. Good luck. Let me know how it goes,” and she was gone.
I hung up the phone, threw on jeans and a t-shirt and raced over to Bloomingdales on East 59th Street in search of the ideal interview outfit that would scream “professional and practical” yet somehow still be cool.
Rack after rack, I couldn’t find anything. Deflated, I walked past the accessories department making my way to the escalator when I noticed a bunch of twenty-something women huddled over a display, frantically grabbing items. Curious, I walked over and there for the first time I saw Kate Spade’s original handbag collection, a series of black nylon bags in a variety of shapes and sizes.
One by one I picked each bag up, admiring the simple, chic style. With no intention of actually purchasing a handbag, I picked up the “Sam” bag, put it on my arm and then promptly fell in love on the spot. With that bag, it wouldn’t matter what I wore to my interviews. There was something about it that gave me all the confidence I needed to walk into those meetings and look like I meant business. I was sold.
That week, I got more compliments on my bag than on anything I had ever owned. Friends ran out to get one, women on the street stopped me even the woman who interviewed me and wound up hiring me, couldn’t help but compliment my bag on my way out.
From that very first time I saw Kate Spade’s bags in Bloomingdales, I was drawn to them.
As Kate Spade stores and then outlets popped up, I could never just pass by one without going in. The windows were so kitschy and fun, I was always compelled to stop in, like paying a visit to an old friend. Each time I crossed the threshold of the shop’s doorway, I was greeted by cheery colors that popped, tongue in cheek sayings and playful designs with a touch of whimsy. That was her signature.
Her shops were a happy place and you couldn’t help but be happy too. The atmosphere was so cleverly curated, it dared you to have fun, be bold and play dress up. Grown women would walk into the shop and within moments were transformed into the young girls they’d once been as they oohed and aahed over gold glitter mules, mittens that lit up with the word “TAXI” on them to help hail a cab and stylish bangle bracelets with mischievous phrases.
Last year when I turned our spare room into my home office, it was Kate Spade’s style that inspired me to create a playful work environment that would bring a smile to my face every day and it’s worked.
While other fashion designers make headlines for everything from hour-long fashion show delays to exploiting factory workers, using child labor or having too many cocktails and winding up on Page Six, Spade was nowhere to be found in the media. I always pictured her loving life, eating dessert first as her housewares commanded, with glitter in her hair and a glass of bubbly in her hand. That was the world she created so perfectly for us behind her designs, shops and ad campaigns that I envisioned her life being the same.
But behind that bright red lipstick, quirky bouffant and those retro glasses hid a troubled woman it seems. While she was creating fun outfits and accessories for us to wear, she herself wore a mask to camouflage whatever pain it was she was going through.
In the end, they say she took your own life with an accessory. A scarf.
Her creations were known for making an entrance but sadly it is her exit that will be most memorable to her legions of fans.
She once said, “I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman but as a great friend– and a heck of a lot of fun.”
Kate, you were a great friend to millions of women who never had the chance to meet you and you provided all of us with a heck of a lot of fun over the years.
I hope wherever you are, you have glitter in your hair, champagne in your hand, and everyone is dressed to the nines and you can finally find your happy place.
RIP Kate Spade. You were an original.