While growing up in kansas city, missouri, katherine noel brosnahan, now kate spade, was both the epitome and antithesis of the all-american girl. there was always something charmingly familiar yet wonderfully original about kate. her fresh sense of style and singular personality reflect a keen sense of wit, propriety, and a no-nonsense approach to life. kate has spent most of her professional career in the accessories business.
After college in 1986, she took a job at mademoiselle magazine, leaving in 1991 with the title of senior fashion editor/head of accessories. while working at the magazine, kate realized that the market lacked stylish, practical handbags and so innocently began designing her own. she put together some sketches, investigated production costs, and created a line of classically shaped bags in satinfinished nylon, as well as interesting colors and fabrics. with her fingers crossed, kate, along with her partner and husband, andy spade, launched “kate spade handbags” in january of 1993.
In 1996, the council of fashion designers of america (cfda) honored kate’s classic designs by awarding her america’s new fashion talent in accessories. kate was honored once again by the cfda in 1998, as best accessory designer of the year. in 1999, kate was honored when her handbags were exhibited at the cooper hewitt museum for the first national design triennial, celebrating american design excellence. and for her new home collection, kate was presented with three prestigious design awards in 2004: house beautiful’s giants of design award for tastemaker, bon appetit’s american food & entertaining award for designer of the year, and elle decor’s elle decor international design award for bedding.
Always searching for the quintessential handbag, katherine noel brosnahan thought it would be easier and definitely more interesting to create her own. one late night in provincetown with then boyfriend, now husband, andy spade, a company was born using kate’s first name and andy’s last to form “kate spade.” as an accessories editor for six years, kate knew the market well, while andy, a creative director at tbwa/chiat/day advertising, immediately put his finger on the sensibility. together, the couple identified a void in the market, combined their talents, took a risk, and designed six simple shapes that emphasized utility, color, and fabric. these six original designs continue to be the company’s signature styles.
Kate’s taste for simple silhouettes, combined with her innovative use of fabrics, was a breath of fresh air in the accessories category. in 1993, with the humble intention of designing a bag she would carry, kate reinvented the handbag, starting a virtual revolution in the accessories market. in 1996, the council of fashion designers (cfda) honored kate and her unpretentious designs by awarding her america’s new fashion talent in accessories. two years later, kate was honored once again by the cfda, this time as accessory designer of the year. and for her new home collection, kate was presented with three prestigious design awards in 2004: house beautiful’s giants of design award for tastemaker, bon appetit’s american food & entertaining award for designer of the year, and elle decor’s elle decor international design award for bedding.
In the early days of the company’s growth, kate and andy realized they would need help to build the business. in late 1993, pamela bell joined kate spade to help kate source materials and produce the handbags. the following year, elyce arons, an old friend of kate and andy’s from their college days at arizona state, came on board and was initially responsible for sales and public relations. within a short period of time, a partnership was formed with kate, andy, pamela, and elyce each contributing unique experience and strengths to the equation.
Kate spade opened its first shop in 1996 in new york city’s soho at 59 thompson street. it quickly outgrew the space and moved around the corner to 454 broome street in the fall of 1997. the store became a laboratory for different categories, from paper to travel. in 1998, kate spade opened in boston, and in 2000, in chicago, san francisco, greenwich, conn., and manhasset, ny. the georgetown store in washington, d.c., opened in the fall of 2003. and a spate of new boutiques opened in 2004, in atlanta, houston, charlotte, dallas, and boca raton, with las vegas, palo alto, and king of prussia, penn. due to open before the end of the year. internationally, kate spade opened its flagship in aoyama, japan, on april 8, 2004. once a private residence, the space is elegant and modern. a total of 2000 square feet split between two floors, the store carries the kate spade collections, a special children’s clothing collection, and a jack spadeinstallation. the aoyama flagship joins eight other free-standing kate spade stores internationally: four in japan, three in hong kong, and one in the philippines.
Innocently appealing to a wide variety of women, the company’s growth continues. “kate spade paper and social stationery” was introduced in 1998 and includes such items as personal organizers, address books, journals, illustrated notecards, and classic pencils and erasers. in november of 1999, kate spade introduced a much anticipated shoe collection incorporating her unique sense of style and sophisticated use of color. “kate spade glasses” was introduced in the spring of 2001, providing yet another natural extension of the refreshing and sophisticated kate spade aesthetic. the “glasses” collection consists of clean shapes, classic proportions and, naturally, an element of surprise. the line includes both sunglasses and ophthalmic frames exemplifying kate’s personal style. kate spade and este?e lauder launched “kate spade beauty” with great success in the spring of 2002. the signature fragrance is based on the scent of a white floral bouquet. deliciously fresh bath and body products round out the collection. the most recent addition to the world of kate spade, “kate spade at home,” will debut in the spring of 2004. the home collection will include bedding, bath items, china, wallpaper, textiles, and other vibrant accessories for home.
“As kate spade grows and evolves, a great deal of product development continues to occur within the company. based on kate’s love of textiles, pattern, and strong geometric shapes, the company developed a signature, iconic design element. inspired by the op art movement of the sixties, this element has proved multi-faceted and naturally developed into a new company mark and graphic art pattern. various interpretations of the design were incorporated into the handbag, luggage, shoe, glasses, and paper collections and introduced as the “noel weave” collection in the fall of 2001. the company plans to incorporate this signature mark into its identity system and product collections going forward as a complement to the enduring “kate spade new york” logo.
Inspired by the classics, but thoroughly in-tune with the modern woman, kate spade launched a creatively driven website in early 2001, www.katespade.com. reflecting the designer’s sensibility, the site is clean, elegant, and laced with touches of wit and surprise. visitors are able to view the current collections, as well as learn more about the company and its philosophy.
Taking a modest, creative approach to design and marketing, rather than the risk being a flash in the fashion pan, the four partners, together with a wonderful group of people, continue to build a company based on vision, graciousness, and old-fashioned hard work.