Kate Spade’s Clothes Always Focused on Making People Happy


Kate Spade

One of the first memories I have related to fashion was being a kid and buying a pair of shoes that were entirely covered in rainbow glitter. They were as fantastic as you might imagine. I remember my mother turning to the saleslady and saying, “don’t we all wish we could have a pair of those?” And thinking to myself, “wait, why can’t you?”

That was before Kate Spade.

Kate Spade changed so much when she started her line in 1993. That was a time when cool adult fashion consisted of overalls and plaid shirts. And into that grungy world, Kate Spade entered with preppy bags in a variety of wildly bright colors.

“Kate Spade seemed to understand that women who liked wearing pink dresses weren’t stupid or frivolous.”

The line spoke to women who still wanted to be girly, who never saw anything wrong with being girly. Not everyone wanted to emulate the actors from The Craft (though, to be fair, the women on the Craft poster looked great). And, inspired by vintage handbags, Kate Spade allowed them to embrace that feminine spirit. Time Magazinewrote about how she “persuaded women in the ’90s to trade what she calls ‘the nothing black bag’ for a purse with personality.”

I suspect not all that much persuasion was necessary. Women were just waiting for an affordable option that allowed them to have a little fun with fashion. And, God, her pieces had personality. Inspired by her mother’s old purses that came in a variety, “oranges, pinks, chocolates, huge pearl buttons,” Kate Spade’s purses were never nothing black bags.

Kate Spade Dorothy Parker Bag
Courtesy of Kate Spade

Go to the company’s website today and you’ll see that her first collection inspired a range of bags that look like pineapples, purses covered in comic print, totes that declare they’re “out and about” and clutches emblazoned with flamingos. In 2003, The New York Times wrote that, “If Dorothy Parker were a product, she would be a Kate Spade clutch.” That may account for the dizzying number of Kate Spade products with Dorothy Parker quotes emblazoned upon them.

Like Dorothy Parker, Kate Spade’s pieces started conversations. And it wasn’t just the handbags. The whole line seemed able to find the fun in femininity without ever making fun of femininity. Kate Spade seemed to understand that women who liked wearing pink dresses weren’t stupid or frivolous because of that style choice—after all, she proudly donned pink tights and founded a multimillion dollar empire. It was an affordably priced wardrobe made for the Elle Woods of the world.

Kate Spade Pink Tights Met Gala
Getty Images

And if you’re looking for a pair of sparkle shoes, your first stop should be Kate Spade. They’ve made countless glittery pairs of shoes since they started doing footwear in 1999.

My mother and I both have pairs of her shoes now.

Today, Mindy Kaling tweeted that Spade’s clothes “were colorful, bold, cheerful, and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them. You couldn’t walk into her boutiques and not smile.”

Kate Spade taught us that we can still enjoy color and sparkle, and that fashion can be as playful as it was when we were children. We can still be twinkly in adulthood. It was fashion that focused on making people happy.

Which is one of the reasons why it’s so tragic that Kate Spade’s life ended with such sadness. It seems shocking, always, when someone who has brought so much joy into the lives of so many takes their own life, as Kate Spade did. The fact that many of us will miss her creative gifts certainly has nothing on the pain that her family must be feeling. But will miss those gifts, all the same. She was inspiring to many of us.

The world will be a less sparkling place for the loss of her. But the twinkly person she inspired in many of us will hopefully go on, in shoes that she created for us.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).