Editor’s note: This story was originally published on October 14, 2002 by the Post’s Fashion Editor, Staci Sturrock.
If you could catalog a woman's likes and dislikes, her daily habits and minor shortcomings, could you pinpoint exactly what makes her who she is? Could you explain, for example, what makes Kate Spade so Kate Spade?
Maybe. After all, Spade has channeled her own desires as a consumer into a $70 million empire of boxy handbags, ladylike shoes and sunglasses that reflect both glamour and good taste.
Now, with the superpowers of Estee Lauder behind her, she has created Kate Spade Beauty - a line of bath, body and fragrance products.
"I do things that I actually love and understand," Spade says. "I love beauty - I have bags and bags of products, and I think Andy" - her husband, business partner and big brother of actor David Spade - "is thrilled I'm doing it so I don't have to buy it anymore."
The fragrance is "very Kate Spade," says Spade. (OK, let's drop the last-name references. Spade comes across as so personable and genuine, "Kate" will do just fine.)
The fragrance is "very Kate Spade," says Kate, dressed adorably in a sleeveless black Prada shirt and full Valentino skirt, accessorized with shoes and bag of her own design. "It has a Kate Spade thumbprint. . . . It's elegant and bright. Not sweet and old-fashioned. It has to have a bounce to it. And warmth."
Specifically, the scent is a bouquet of Kate's favorite blossoms - honeysuckle, gardenia, jasmine and tuberose.
What's your very favorite flower?
Honeysuckle, to smell. Peonies, to see. "They're full and beautiful and simple, and we always have them in our office. When people walk in, they're always, 'Oh my God! Look at your flowers!'
-Your favorite scented candle?
Gardenia. And jasmine. And honeysuckle. Previously, Kate would burn them individually, but when she debuts a Kate Spade candle in the coming months, all three smells will be in a single pillar of wax.
-Your favorite bath product?
A scrub or a bath oil. "But I really like to use a body scrub in the bath and spend time there on my elbows and heels and forearms. It's maintenance."
“I do things that I actually love and understand”
The Kate Spade story is the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams. After graduating from Arizona State University in 1986, the Kansas City native worked as accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She climbed the masthead there, only to reach an "Is that all there is?" epiphany.
Because she had studied the accessories market as part of her job, she knew what was missing: purses that were fashionable but not trendy. The kind of bag she herself would like to carry.
At that point, she was still Kate Brosnahan. So, when she and then-boyfriend Andy Spade, whose background is advertising, decided to start a company of their own, they used her first name and his last.
The six original designs they produced - unpretentious in shape, bold in color, the "kate spade" label serving as the sole exterior frill - appealed to millions of women.
"Her bags have an almost iconic look to them," says Lori J. Durante, curator and founder of Delray Beach's Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History. "They're stylish without being overstyled. They're so simplistic, yet you know it's her design."
And the bags - by turns boxes, duffels and buckets - are made for a woman who must actually shoulder her own load, Durante adds. "They're not too tiny, they're not too dainty, they're not too delicate."
Kate lent six bags to the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History for its current exhibition, "Hats, Handbags and Gloves: From Past to Present." The show runs at the Cornell Museum at Old School Square through Nov. 10.
The Council of Fashion Designers noted Kate's achievements, recognizing her with awards for accessories design in 1996 and 1998.
The bags were merely the beginning. In 1998, Kate launched a line of personal organizers, note cards, journals and photo albums.
"When we came out with the stationery, people were like, 'What?! When are you going to do shoes?!' " she recalls. "What people have grown to expect with us is the unexpected."
-Do you keep a personal journal?
"I have, and it depends. It's off and on. I did when we were developing the beauty line, because I needed to make notes about what I was thinking and what we wanted. . . . And I did right out of college when I was traveling in Europe by myself, because I was the only person I had to talk to."
-How would you rate yourself as a writer of thank-you notes?
"Very good, but they may not be as timely as they should. They usually begin, 'This is long overdue . . . ' And I like to handwrite them because I always enjoy receiving a handwritten note more than a thank-you by e-mail."
-Family photos: neatly arranged in albums or piled in boxes?
"Stacked in boxes. It is a huge goal, though!"
In late 1999, Kate watchers got their wish: a shoe collection.
Sunglasses followed in spring 2001. Luggage arrived, courageously, two months after Sept. 11.
The Kate Spade logo is now stamped on wallets, baby bags and pajamas (although Kate says she has no interest in or intention of designing a full-fledged clothing line).
-What's your philosophy on pajamas?
"They should be comfortable, for sure. I know I should say 'sexy,' but comfort is first. And they should be fun. I love white pajamas with accents of color."
-Favorite midnight snack?
"Pop-Tarts. Cinnamon. It's easy and good." (But, Kate says, hard to find at most New York delis.)
-Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
"Walking around in the park, when we're in the city. And if we're at our place in the Hamptons - just being outdoors. Or curled up with the newspaper. We don't start our Sundays too early."
-Do you have any pets?
Yes. Henry, a 7 1/2-year-old Maltese. "He's like the little fluffy maestro. We call him the mayor of the office."
-Is Henry allowed to sleep on the bed?
"Yes. Nothing is off limits to Henry."
Kate, 39, has lived in New York for almost two decades, but she says she remains a girl from the heartland, still polite to taxi drivers. "They always assume I'm from out of town," she says. "I'm not as fast (as a typical New Yorker), in a good way. I take time to enjoy things."
-Things like her current favorite CD?
Wilco's latest, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
-Or maybe her favorite film?
To Kill a Mockingbird - "It is so human."
-Or who knows - a re-reading of her all-time favorite book?
A Separate Peace - "Loved it since I was little."