The late designer's career in her own words

By Jillian Ruffo
June 05, 2018 06:07 PM
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The fashion industry and clothing lovers alike are mourning the loss of legendary handbag designer Kate Spade, who passed away on Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy of iconic designs, a new company (Frances Valentine), and her husband of 24 years, Andy, and 13-year-old daughter Frances Beatrix. Spade started her namesake company from the ground-up in her apartment in 1993, and since built a business that has inspired industry insiders like Bobbi Brown and celebrities like Reese Witherspoon. And while many are sharing their memories of Spade and her brand, we’re also looking back on how she viewed her journey — in her own words.

5th Anniversary of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund
Credit: Brian Ach/WireImage

“I saw the fashion directors — that would be your next jump from being senior fashion editor, and I thought, I don’t really see myself wanting that job … so Andy and I were out honestly at a Mexican restaurant and he just said, ‘What about handbags?'” she told NPR of her then-boyfriend, Andy Spade’s encouragement to start the company. “I said, ‘Honey, you don’t just start a handbag company.’ And he said ‘Why not, how hard can it be?’

Of course, it was harder than Andy expected. Spade added that once they spent a decent amount of money, they weren’t sure the brand would stick.

“I said I think we should shut it down,” she said about the hardships they encountered upon launching the brand. “I’m very conservative, I have no interest in losing money, and I said, we’ve already spent $4000, and I said that’s it from me, you know, I’m not a gambler.”

But before she knew it, Spade’s designs grew into a multi-million dollar empire that attracted women will all different tastes in fashion. And the company was so large that her brother-in-law, David Spade, marveled over their fortune.

“People ask me about my brother and his wife starting Kate Spade,” he told PEOPLE in 2015. “That’s interesting to people and if I had their money, I’d throw mine away.”

But many fans of the brand, which Spade started in 1993, may not know that Kate and Andy sold her namesake brand in 2006, following the birth of her daughter in 2005.

After selling more than half of her stake in the company to Neiman Marcus in 1999, the designer and her two partners sold the remainder of the company to Liz Claiborne for $59 million, and took the next decade to care for her daughter while figuring out her next move. (Kate Spade New York was then sold to Coach for $2.4 billion in May 2017, forming Tapestry, Inc.)

“We had a baby in 2005…I wanted to leave on good terms, it was the perfect time to leave,” the designer told NPR in a 2017 interview. “I wanted to spend time with my daughter, I’d heard so many horror stories about people who sell and then they stay and then they fight and they sue…so I thought oh, that’s too ugly for me…so it was seamless. It was a very quiet exit.”

Then, in 2016, she began her next venture: Frances Valentine, a new shoes and accessories brand that she named after her daughter.

Spade told NPR about the funds she, her husband and their two partners used to start the new line: “We’re self-financing again, so I’m not crazy about, as I mentioned earlier, losing any money, so you know — this thing better work.”

The line consisted of straw bags, flats and playful pumps, which were worn by the likes of Brooke Shields and Lena Dunham.

The designer legally changed her name to Kate Valentine in honor of the label.

“I thought it was important to distinguish who I am now,” she told PEOPLE in 2016. “I’m the same person, but there’s a difference.”