Remembering Innovator and Designer Kate Spade in Her Own Words
Kate Spade, the entrepreneur-designer behind beloved brands Kate Spade New York and Frances Valentine, was found dead today after an apparent suicide. She was 55. Spade, who changed her name to Kate Valentine in 2016, was known for her singular taste and vision and her philanthropic efforts.
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She launched both of her businesses with her husband Andy Spade. Frances Valentine was named for her daughter. When she stepped away from Kate Spade New York in 2007, the designer told Racked that it allowed her to “ to go home and be a full-time mother, which was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
In the early years of the company, when Valentine was interviewed by The Boston Globe, she mentioned she spotted a woman carrying one of her purses. It showed an affection for her customers and their sense of style.
“There's a woman with a Kate Spade bag. You know what I love? She's a professional. She's in a smart suit. But she's an individual,” she said. “She doesn't have a hysteria about fashion. That's how I like to approach fashion too. You have to be comfortable in it. Fashion can't feel like a costume."
Looking back on a decade of success in 2003, Valentine shared with Fortune Magazine the simple strategy that had gotten them there.
“One thing we did right was taking it slowly. It may not look like that, but in terms of how the retailers were looking at it, we were slow. The pressure and encouragement to keep going into different categories was big. It was only when we felt comfortable that we had a group of designs we loved that we started to do shoes,” she said. “We both thought it was better to kind of tippy-toe in, get our feet wet, find out where the successes and the failures are. Even though we started small, we set it up the way we did the handbags. You build it strong enough that, if you were to take the handbag and other product lines away, you would still have a healthy shoe business.”
And in an interview with The Business of Fashion in 2016 ahead of the rollout of Frances Valentine, she described her grounded and collaborative design process. "It’s really scrappy. We’re drawing and sketching on little pieces of paper,” she said. “I like the idea of being more behind the scenes and … giving credit where credit is due, instead of being Oz.”
This approach extended to her feelings about Kate Spade after more than a decade away from the brand. At the beginning of 2018, Valentine and husband Andy Spade spoke with Guy Raz for the NPR podcast, “How I Built This.” When Raz asked her whether she had any regrets about stepping away, she said she didn’t. She then recalled an outing with her daughter to a Kate Spade store.
“We went to the cash register, and she said, are you on our mailing list? And I said, I don't think so. And so then I used my maiden name,” she said. “And then my daughter kind of kept nudging me. She was dying for me to say something, and I didn't. And then I remember thinking, you know, no, I'm not on your mailing list, but I think I helped create it.”