For Many Women, Kate Spade Was More Than A Designer
The iconic label has seen me through the toughest of times.
Kate Spade built a revolutionary brand out of nothing, and now that she's gone, I'm struggling to wrap my head around everything she meant to me. Surveying my closet, every Kate Spade piece represents a landmark moment in my life: the chic leather backpack I bought on sale when my tiny purses no longer accommodated my burgeoning "adult" lifestyle, the cat-shaped fitness tracker my best friend got me when I finally traded Starbucks for Numi (a work in progress), and the black pebbled cherry blossom satchel I bought in the spring after I got engaged.
Since the brand was founded in 1993, Kate Spade has had a vital message for women: "You can be yourself and get it done. You can accomplish without changing who you are or what you like. I'll help you get there, because I did it, too." Kate Spade made it okay for grown women to rock pink metallic dinosaur clutches just because it made them feel good. She proved workwear can be a form of expression, and that the bags that hold our laptops, planners, and calendars don't have to be soul-suckingly plain. She's inspired me to own my style, and helped me heal during some of my most challenging moments.
As a teen, I was naturally drawn to clothing that was bright and stylish. While my peers blended together in a sea of flannel, plaid, and sweat pants, I gravitated toward embellished collars, plaid skirts, and sparkle. I was a Cher in a world of pre-makeover Tais. (Kate said it best: "I find color optimistic and enthusiastic, and I adore it." I would agree.) But dressing how I liked meant attracting the wrong kind of attention — especially in a small, conservative town where the people around you don't share that same passion. Instead of jean skirts, I opted for fun prints. I chose ruffled blouses over sweatshirts and tees. I don't think I wore a pair of sneakers throughout my entire high school career. Since I didn't fit in with the accepted aesthetic, I was subjected to whispers in the hallway, nasty rumors, and alienation — typical high school BS that feels like the end of the world when you're 16 and just trying to be yourself.
When my picture ended up taped up in the boys' bathroom urinal and used as target practice, I gave in. Eventually, I stopped wearing clothes that felt like me. The bullying stopped, but my glitter heart died. Until I came across an old Kate Spade interview from 2002. In it, she spoke about her childhood growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, and how she regularly patrolled for clothes that matched her "half girl next door, half glamour-puss" spirit. You too, Kate? The memories she shared felt so familiar to me. "My mother was very good at encouraging me to dress however I wanted to dress," she said. "My sisters would sometimes think, 'Oh my God, why did you let her buy that fuzzy leopard coat at that vintage store?' I thought, of course, I looked like Audrey Hepburn." There was no quick fix for what I was going through, but hearing her story reminded me the world was bigger than my town, and much bigger than the people who had made me feel small.
Shortly afterward, I moved away for college (with skin thick as can be) and started to come out of the bland shell I'd nestled into. That year, Kate Spade's Fall collection — a delightful assortment of '60s-inspired silk, houndstooth, and jewels — was a source of inspiration for me. The collection said to me, "It's okay for you to love a little sparkle. This is you, whether they like it or not." Slowly, I regained my sense of self, with Kate's little spade as my personal symbol of growth.
Now, as an adult, Kate Spade is a staple in my wardrobe, but I think I understand her a little better than I did back then. A talented, hard-working unicorn of a woman who had profound influence on my life is gone, but part of growing up means acknowledging that even your heroes are human. In the end, I know her influence will live on in the many women she's empowered to be themselves and stay true to their visions.
Thank you, Kate Spade, for being whimsical and smart. Thank you for proving that the only limit is the one you set yourself. Thank you for reminding me that the world is mine to build.
Most of all, thank you for sharing your glitter heart with the world — even though it wasn't easy.