This week’s artisan feature takes a different spin, focusing instead on the world of fashion. I am covering fashion icon Kate Spade and her versatile design sense and business acumen.
Born Kate Brosnahan, Kate created the designer brand Kate Spade New York with her husband and business partner, Andy Spade. There are over 80 Kate Spade NY retail shops in the United States and over 100 international outlets, and their products are available in stores all over the world.
Unlike most other fashion designers, Kate did not attend any design schools or classes. Instead, she started out in 1986 as the Accessories Editor for Mademoiselle Magazine. While there, she noted that there was a distinct lack of handbags that were both stylish and sensible. So Kate decided to create her own.
She created her first handbags in her apartment, and began to market them at tradeshows and design fairs. They went unnoticed for a long time, until finally she gained the attention of big-name stores Fred Segal and Bergdorf Goodman.
Once these prominent brands began to show interest, success was not far behind. In 1993 she launched the fashion design company “Kate Spade Handbags”. Although handbags were their core product, Kate and company also made unrelated products such as eyewear, pajamas, and perfume.
Thanks to Kate’s unique and tasteful designs and her husband Andy’s marketing and business savvy, the Kate Spade NY brand has expanded to cover multiple countries and a wide array of products and services.
Designing out of a Paper Bag
Kate Spade was one of the earliest pioneers of the fashionable yet functional handbag. Her first designs were made out of satin-finished nylon, and as her talent and product line grew, she began to include more exotic materials such as herringbone.
The brand has established itself as a modern classic, with colorful, eye-catching designs that set themselves apart from more somber and understated luxury handbags. Most of Kate’s prototypes are made out of paper, because she doesn’t sketch.
Her designs are always functional as well as fashionable. Kate creates handbags with the intention of subjecting them to everyday use, unlike other “glass” bags that rip or break, or are valued too highly to be used anywhere. Most of her designs’ seams are double-stitched for extra durability.
Kate herself has characterized her handbags as anything but “trendy”. In not relying on trends to sell her handbags, she’s ensured that the designs will look as good today as it will a decade from now.
Kate has since applied this tasteful yet practical design sense to other products. She has recently opened a line of home furnishing products as well, under her name.
Awards in Spades
Kate’s fashion-forward designs have won her numerous awards over the course of her career. The Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded her twice, once in 1996 for “American’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories”, and again in 1998 for “Best Accessory Designer of the Year”. Her new Home Collection has won her at least three design awards from prominent publications such as Bon Appetit and Elle Décor.