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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
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WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Kate and Andy Spade,1998

WITH PETER HALLEY AND ARIANA SPEYER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY LUCAS MICHAEL



It's hard to walk around New York City without seeing the Kate Spade label. Her well-made, well-proportioned, yet playful hand bags seem to hang from lots of well-dressed shoulders. And they look perfectly at home wherever you see them — whether uptown or down.
But many people don't realize that the Kate Spade label is actually a creative collaboration between Kate's designs and husband Andy's uncanny deployment of the Kate Spade image. Together, they are beginning to build a company with the potential to be the next Ralph or Calvin. They've just received their second CFDA Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, started a new men's line called Jack Spade, and are expanding into Japan with more than twenty stores.
We thought it would be fun to sit down and talk with this dynamic pair about design and business — and how to have fun with both. Which is exactly what they're doing so well.




PETER: Some people say that the most creative thing to do is business. Translating your vision into something that is visible, that holds together, that you can make into a business that survives is just so fascinating. And also the way that you've done it — whether Kate Spade is really exactly you, or whether it's something that's been created by you and Andy as a company is also so intriguing.
ANDY: I think it's both. And I think we both understand what Kate Spade is, almost as an individual in itself. I mean, it does represent four people, including two partners, but Kate and I more than anyone else — from the design to the entire point of view.
KATE: It's about that whole thing that we did — "Kate Spade likes." Have you guys been to the store?
ARIANA: I have.
KATE: All those little things in the window, it really wasn't just about what I like, though I loved them all.
ANDY: We write things down to understand who we are as a company. We say, "Kate Spade is ... Kate Spade is not ... "

PETER: Oh really?
ANDY: Yeah, and we do that as an exercise to help people who work with us, and the people at the store, to understand what we're about, really, because it's hard. So we'll explain it in a way that's all-encompassing: "If Kate Spade were a car, what would it be? If Kate Spade were a house, what would it be?" You can say that Kate's "cute" or you can say it's "whimsical," but we don't want to be written off as being whimsical and cute because it's really not. I mean, Kate loves herringbone.
KATE: Very easily people can tell you what you want. In the beginning, they would ask us to do specials and it was what they saw they wanted.
ANDY: You just can't listen to them. A lot of designers get backers and companies. We didn't, we did it with our own savings. We don't have backers. But you have to, have to, have the money to survive. So when Barney's says they'll give you a $20,000 order if you'll do pink mohair, and you're a young designer and you need $20,000 to pay your manufacturer, you do it. But suddenly a consumer walks in and goes, "That's not Kate Spade," or that's not whoever the person is doing it.
KATE: I think that also in design you really hear so much. You hear from stylists, you hear from the editors, from the writers and the buyers, but it's what they see. And all of a sudden you go, "Shit, maybe we should do silver, you know, silver's in and everyone's doing it." And then you go, "Wait a minute ... I don't like it and I don't want to do it. Maybe next year, but I don't want it now."
ANDY: So we were conscious of that as we grew the company. We'd say, "We also love old, old poplin trench coats from the '30s," or "Look at this great shoe from the '50s." But then they'd say, "Oh you're '30s, you're '50s, you're retro." And we say, "No, there's a common denominator to these items, and it's quality and it's style and it's simplicity."

PETER: In a way, what you're saying is that even though you're really heavily involved now with designing, creating and manufacturing objects, you're creating a company that can do anything because it's about what the vision is.
KATE: Absolutely.

PETER: But that's what's so special. And only a few companies, people like Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein, have been able to do that. And I've never talked to two thirty-year olds who've been able to do it.
KATE: Haven't done it yet.

ARIANA: You're getting pretty close.
ANDY: It takes a period of time, and I think it's true with any business, to create a point of view and then have a broader base from which to grow. We're trying to do that just through a little handbag company, and it's a reluctantly growing handbag company because we want to make sure that everthing's done right.

PETER: And you had the store when you started?
ANDY: No. We knew it was important to Kate Spade to have a store, but we couldn't afford it at the beginning. We were selling out of our loft for awhile, and then we had Barney's. We didn't sell to a lot of stores because they weren't right, and we did our store earlier than most. For example, Helmut Lang just opened a store. A lot of people wait a long time, but we did do it in our second to third year when we weren't doing a lot of business.

PETER: But everything was in place for developing the Kate Spade ideal, let's call it, before the store?
ANDY: Yes, conceptually. What the store did was really help people, the partners who came to us, and stores who couldn't see the whole world of Kate Spade, to see it.
You have to create it for them before they'll build you a shop in Bergdorf Goodman, for example. So you create it, three-dimensionally, and then they say, "Okay, we can see it, we can take this concept and put it into our store."

PETER: Now, if I could get you to show off a little bit, some of the people I've talked to about Kate Spade don't know ...
KATE: Anything about us.

PETER: No, they don't know everything you're doing in Asia, I mean, they're bowled over when I mention that you have, like, twenty stores in Japan.
KATE: Not yet.
ANDY: We have seven open right now and we'll have another seven open this year.
KATE: There are three stores, and four are in-store boutiques within a Sak's, a Neiman's, a Bergdorf's and a Barney's.
ANDY: But completely built in.
KATE: Like you walk into our store.
ANDY: In three years we will have twenty-eight stores. Our architects design everything, Jonathan Marvel and his partner Rob Rogers. We looked at their work and they'd never done anything in retail — which we loved. They've done a lot of museum and gallery spaces, but no retail, no fixturing. We wanted our stores to be little, beautiful spaces, so they wouldn't feel like Banana Republic. You know, you go into stores and they look like stores. So we thought, well, let's see what they do. And a month later, they went off to Japan with us.
KATE: And it was fun.
ANDY: We just sat around and figured it out. We were thinking about a concept for the store that we could do twenty more times.

ARIANA: Like a prototype?
ANDY: We wanted them to be consistent but different, so it never feels like a cookie cutter.

PETER: Now I'm really getting upset, because my life is just not like this.
KATE: Well, neither is mine, really. I just spent two weeks scrubbing our apartment.

ARIANA: So when the people first came from Japan to see your New York store, they immediately got it?
ANDY: We had things in the store like pajamas and trench coats. So when they went in they could see that we're not just a bag company. They could see our point of view on clothing. We look at categories that ready-to-wear designers aren't looking at. I mean, Brooks Brothers does pajamas, so we thought, what about a woman's company that does a great pajama? And then we did trench coats. Things that we think are great that we would love to have — the "Kate Spade likes this" idea. And if you have enough of those things, you create a point of view ...
KATE: And then they can go, "Who the hell cares what Kate Spade likes?"

PETER: I guess women wouldn't care about this very much, but can we talk about Brooks Brothers for a second, because the demise of Brooks Brothers has, like, ruined my life.
KATE: Oooh, I know. That was the only place I was ever able to get Andy something that he actually liked.
ANDY: When they turned over we almost cried. They haven't changed in ... You know, the Oxford shirt was still the same quality Oxford shirt.

PETER: Which is good, but there are only two colors now.
ANDY: The yellow — I still have three of them. But I really should have bought more ...
ARIANA: Peter wants you to take up where Brooks Brothers left off.
ANDY: Well, that's what we want to do. We're doing the Jack Spade line which will be in the basement of the Kate Spade store.

PETER: That's a men's line?
ANDY: It's a men's line, and it will be based on the concept that it isn't a designer, it's more from the old manufacturing companies, like Brooks and J. Press — the old companies that weren't designing, but making items. The line is simple. It represents a lot of ordinary things. And it's not a designer.
But you know what I would love to do? Buy all the best Brooks Brothers shirts that are still around, repackage them and then sew my label over the ones I like. So I'll do what Duchamp did, and they'll be my own readymades — because they're not doing them anymore.

PETER: What also fascinates me with Brooks Brothers is how they could have such a great brand name and ruin it? I mean, it's like flushing something down the toilet.
KATE: I think that what happened is they got nervous. I think they got nervous with what was going on in fashion, because fashion became sort of high fashion, and men became more interested in that.
ANDY: They really didn't know how to leverage stodginess. When I was in advertising, you could take something that you might see as a negative, some old guy, for example, and make him the most interesting thing in the world if you just put him in a more modern magazine, like yours. You don't have to get a young model and put him in Brooks Brothers' clothes. What you do is take who you are and figure out a way to make that contemporary. But I really think that they ran away from it because they thought, "Oh shit, we gotta update, we gotta contemporize," rather than figure out how to solve the problem by making that cooler than all the other stuff.

ARIANA: Did you leverage something that was innately yours?
KATE: The idea wasn't an overall "We're going to make the handbag come back."
ANDY: No one knew it wasn't there ...
KATE: Exactly.
ANDY: ... until they saw it.
KATE: But I think that was it — the idea of just bringing back ...
ANDY: ... things from childhood, really, in a modern way. I mean, we grew up in the Midwest. I grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, and Kate grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. We moved to New York, and we've spent a third of our lives together here. And we've learned about the city, but we still have these feelings about our childhood. We've taken all of that and combined it with what's happened to us over ten years in New York to create this company.
KATE: We started off with the six original styles that are still in the line, and since then we add and drop. But this bag really was the bag that I wanted to wear.
ANDY: It's that bag you're carrying right now.
KATE: Right, it's this exact one, it's the square ...
ANDY: ... boxy bag with short handles. Six shapes, and every one that Kate made, she made out of paper because Kate doesn't sketch. So she taped the sides and made sure the papers worked. When you make a handbag, it has to be well made because it's like luggage. Some people make bags that are just throw-away, disposable bags.
KATE: Or really precious.
ANDY: The way Kate did it, the seams are double-stitched, which is harder to make, but it's stronger. And at the time, there was always ...
KATE: ... a lot of hardware on bags.
ANDY: Like gold clasps, and we didn't want any of that.

ARIANA: But we were talking about shapes because of your run-in with Banana Republic, because that was the shape you were trying to protect.
KATE: These were the four shapes, so to have somebody else come in and assume responsibility for them ...
ANDY:
Assume ownership of them.

PETER: You were a young company, three years old, and Banana Republic comes along and ...
KATE: Knocks us off. They do our bag, they intentionally tried to confuse the customer.

PETER: This was one of your original designs?
KATE: Yep.
ANDY: They blatantly ...
KATE: ... put the label in the exact same place, the whole thing. I mean, it was our bag. This is the only thing I have worn since day one.
ANDY: That bag is the "501" of our company, it really represents the company.
KATE: At the beginning, a lot of people thought it was obnoxious that we put the label on the outside, because at the same time we were saying that we weren't really interested in the whole idea of a label that says such-and-such. But it really was our replacement for hardware, it was our replacement for something for your eye to go to.
ANDY: It's dirty, it's an inside label, it's a shirt label. But before the show, Kate took it out and hand sewed it on the bags because it just needed something.
KATE: Everyone thought it was a marketing trick — "That savvy husband of yours."

PETER: And when you started, was there a company that was a model? Were you like looking at Louis Vuitton luggage?
ANDY: I think we appreciated Prada and L.L. Bean, and it was really like existing in between the two.
KATE: Without resembling either.
ANDY: We love L.L. Bean and the idea of quality, and we also appreciate style, but we're not some Italian family that's been around for a hundred years ... Guccis with the big "G."
KATE: European design is much more precious. Ours is much more structural.

PETER: It's really interesting as we talk, because even though Andy's references are really to sources like L.L. Bean and Brooks Brothers, you share so many ideas. So there's a kind of yin/yang here in terms of how you work together.
KATE: Definitely. I mean, if you even looked at this bag, it's herringbone, so it looks like an old sport coat that you might imagine Spencer Tracy wearing — which I adore, that natty little look that men wear, but then, it's in pink.

PETER: Tell us about your bookstore.
ANDY: I've always collected interesting books. Kate does too. They're used books, and some are rare, but not necessarily high-end books. I had a project called "An Argument for looking at books instead of reading them," because I loved some of the graphics on books, so I did a color xerox book of about a hundred books.

PETER: Oh, wow.
ANDY: And when we left the store on Thompson Street, we talked about having a little gallery, but there are so many there, and we didn't have a new idea for one in Soho. But Soho doesn't really have used bookstores, so we just ended up putting our books in there — everything from poetry by Ogden Nash to D.H. Lawrence's Obscenity and Pornography. A lot of people have come in and enjoyed the store and we'll keep it going for a while. It's open three days a week.

ARIANA: And what does your accountant say?
KATE: He said, "Well, I don't know ... are you even covering the costs here?"
ANDY: But you know what, a store itself is an ad. To do something three-dimensional like that, it's interactive, people can spend time there, can get emotionally attached to it — I look at it as an ad. Let's say that the rent is $1700, right? A page in Vogue is much more money than that.

PETER: I'm really bowled over by how thorough you are about everything.
ANDY: Kate doesn't think we're thorough enough.
KATE: I'm really a details-oriented person.
ANDY: And I'm not.
KATE: But it is exhausting. I've worn myself to the bone on the details. You know, "That's the wrong button!"
ANDY: We do work really hard, but we love it. I wanted to do so many things in my life — to write, and I'd love to be a cartoonist — but you can use a company to different ends. I mean, the great thing about making something succeed — which is the first thing you have to do — is that you can then take advantage of it. And do a little bookstore if you like. That makes our lives enjoyable.
But in the first few years, you have to really put your time into it, you have to do it. Katie has to obsess about the details — otherwise it's wrong. I have to obsess about the point of view of the company and the concept of the company. You only have one chance. You know, if you don't do it, and let things slide, you'll never have a second chance.

PETER: There are all these people in the '90s who have tried to market themselves, rather than market what they do specifically. And we're all aware that we live in an increasingly media-saturated world, a world in which information about something is, in a way, the biggest reality. So, it's almost like Kate Spade is a company that allows the two of you to do that.
KATE: The whole idea of marketing ... I just know nothing about that. And I don't really like it. I don't like it in movie stars and I don't like it in artists. I don't know. If you were a toilet brush, then okay, then sell me, say you're better. Or a better vacuum sweeper.
ANDY: You know, I think it was Warhol who once said that business was the most creative form of art. That's really interesting to do, and to manage, as you grow, to keep it pure and to make it exactly what you want it to be. You know, Jay Chiat once said, "How big can we get before we get bad?" With advertising agencies, the bigger they get, they always get bad. They start bringing more people in, the philosophy doesn't go down the line, and they lose it. So that's our challenge. We want to keep it good. We want it to be solid and around forever — like the old loafer you used to buy again and again. We approach it as this great thing, as this opportunity that we have, and, honestly, how lucky we are.
KATE: You also can't be afraid of failure, because that's the thing that can scare the hell out of you — "Oh, remember Kate Spade, they thought they were really great?" I mean, shit, we're just doing what we like.
© index magazinegelatin1
Kate and Andy Spade by Lucas Michael, 1998
© index magazinetobias
Kate Spade by Lucas Michael, 1998

© index magazinetobias
Andy Spade by Lucas Michael, 1998
 
 

 

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