How Kate Spade Made an Everlasting Impact on the Fashion Industry

Late designer Kate Spade's name brand remains a go-to choice for women. Three years after she died by suicide, her legacy remains stronger than ever.

By Alanah Joseph Jun 05, 2021 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Zac Posen Reflects on Kate Spade's Legacy at 2018 Tonys

It's very easy to spot a Kate Spade New York bag.

Without needing heavy logo-embedded prints, designer Kate Spade has an aesthetic that will live on forever. In 1993, the Midwestern writer left her job as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle to design what she felt the market was missing: colorful, utilitarian-inspired handbags. Three years later, the fashion expert was riding her famous bike, complete by a wicker basket, to her first store in the Soho District of New York City. That year, the storefront with bright, artistic displays broke $6 million in sales, as reported by WWD.

Her color palettes and quirky quotes were making New Yorkers smile. And, for those obsessed with accessories, the stark uniqueness of her brand made her customers standout with ease. Soon, she was battling a number of infringement suits to maintain the integrity of her design.

In fact, by 2006, the designer's brand was so recognizable and successful that fashion conglomerates, such as Liz Claiborne Inc. and Neiman Marcus group, took interest in ownership. The founders sold Kate Spade New York, leaving the company.

Iconic Kate Spade Brand Looks

Her impact on fashion, however, didn't end there, especially as her legacy, which includes pick-me-up quotes, preppy style and bright accessories, continued to grow.

In 2016, she and husband Andy Spade started a new company, Francis Valentine, which subtly reestablished her status as the brains behind her Americana aesthetic with similar styles to her original designs.

On the anniversary of her sudden and tragic death, we're taking a look back at all of the times she impacted the fashion world. Scroll through her journey below.

1962-1996: The Birth of a Brand

Born Katherine Brosnahan, Kate Spade entered the world on Dec. 24, 1962. She grew up in Kansas City, Mo. and later attended the University of Kansas, where she met her future business partner Elyce Arons. The two later transferred to Arizona State University, where she met her future husband Andy Spade. Kate graduated with a journalism degree in 1985 and went on to work at Mademoiselle magazine in New York. Then, in 1993, she launched the handbag brand, Kate Spade, with Andy. The two married in 1994. Three years into her business, the two opened their first storefront in Soho and won the International Award from the Council of Fashion Designs of America.

1998: Kate Wins Her Second CFDA International Award

Two years after her first win, the designer brought home the International Award for her influence.

1999-2002: Kate Introduces Jack Spade and Cosmetics

In the late '90s and early 2000s, the success of the brand continued to grow, venturing in menswear and men's accessories through their new company, Jack Spade. Kate also expanded her feminine line into cosmetics, partnering with Estee Lauder, shoes and fragrance. According to Forbes, Kate sold 56 percent of the company to Neiman Marcus in 1999 for $34 million.

2003: Follow the Leader

Kate, as seen here at the Met Gala with Andy, was a clear leader in the accessories industry, staying at the forefront of the needs of the modern American woman.

2004: The Digital Storefront

As a leader in the accessories industry, Kate and Andy made the decision to move into e-commerce, becoming one of the first fashion brands to do so. Now known for their appealing storefronts, the designer and marketing executive aimed to bring their bright perspective online.

2005: A Family of Three

In 2005, the designer gave birth to her first child—a daughter named Frances Beatrix Spade ("Bea" for short).

2006: The Next Chapter

In 2006, the brand sold its remaining shares to Neiman Marcus for a reported $59 million, per Forbes. Liz Claiborne Inc. then bought the company for a reported $124 million. Kate and Andy left the company. Coach would acquire the company in 2017 for a reported $2.4 billion.

2008: Her Design Legacy

Although Kate was no longer a part of the company, her unique sense of style continued to make a cultural impact, as seen here in CW's teen drama, Gossip Girl.

2016: Back to Business

The dynamic business partners decided to start over with a new brand, Frances Valentine. Although the company had no affiliation to Kate Spade New York, it placed Kate's super-feminine, Americana aesthetic in the forefront, making the brands somewhat similar in design.

2018: Kate's Death

Kate was found unconscious and unresponsive in her New York apartment on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. She was 55 years old. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled her death suicide by hanging.

This story was originally published on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 1:53 p.m. PT.

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