On June 5, 2018, the world lost a fashion icon. Kate Spade’s stylistic influence extended beyond the confines of the runway: women across the United States trusted her eponymous brand and modeled themselves after it.
In the wake of this tragedy, we remember a few of the many ways that Spade left her mark on the world of fashion, and subsequently, American culture.
The Reimagined Handbag
A handbag created for its utility, class, and style is commonplace today because, in 1993, Spade identified a hole in the market and had the idea to design with these principles in mind. And, importantly, the brand was not created for only the super-rich. Kate Spade bags, while not cheap, were always at low enough prices to be within reach for both young and middle-class consumers.
The simple brilliance of her product was soon evident. Everywhere Kate Spade bags were sold, they were flying off the shelves almost immediately. Fast-forward twenty-five years and Spade’s landmark handbags are as successful as ever.
Fashion For Everyone
Spade governed her brand using the same principles as her initial handbag. In 2004, she was quoted in Vogue saying “We’re not intimidating. . . . I think some people get nervous about fashion because they find it a little scary. But fashion should be enjoyed; it shouldn’t be looked at from a jaded, been-there-done-that point of view.”
By throwing out the handbook, Spade directly benefited the working girl. Through Kate Spade, millions have felt empowered to dress like the women they aim to become without paying designer prices.
Outside of fashion, Spade was just as committed to justice. Her foundation, Kate Spade & Company, fights for economic equality for women.
An Enviable Aesthetic
Spade embodied the bright, light and bold brand she created and marshaled in a new generation of female designers. Everything she made was fun. Her creativity inspired countless individuals, not just artists or fashion designers, to think outside of the box or just simply experience a moment of joy.
The spirit of Spade’s designs showed the world that women don’t necessarily have to renounce their femininity or be morose to be a powerful presence. Now, a generation of women imitate her cheerful color palette in their own wardrobe and enter the work-world toting her bags on their arm.
Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour eloquently summarized the impact Spade made in a statement following the news of her death:
“Kate Spade had an enviable gift for understanding exactly what women the world over wanted to carry. She launched her label at a time when everyone thought that the definition of a handbag was strictly European, all decades-old serious status and wealth,” Wintour said. “Then along came this thoroughly American young woman who changed everything. 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; colorful and unpretentious.”
Kate Spade was fierce, forward-thinking and authentically modern. She embodied what it means to be a good American. Not only did she find tremendous success by rewriting the rules of her industry to create something completely new, she did so with the needs of the public in mind. Instead of blending in with the rest of the pack, Spade used what made her unique to build one of the most far-reaching brands in the country over just a few years. And this all can be said before mentioning her menswear line, her new brand Frances Valentine, or that she was already a pioneer of online retail in 2004.
In herself, Spade found an icon and used a handbag to start a new generation of American women.