When I took my first job after my divorce it was in the city. I traveled by train every morning to what seemed a faraway and intimidating Emerald City. When I disembarked I felt so out of place - the clothes on my back were poached from my sister's closet and patched together with out-of-style shoes and a scratched 1980's disco bag. After being a stay-at-home single mother for 6 years, I had no idea what was even fashionable at the time.
As I waited for my first paycheck to arrive, I earmarked it for some updated pieces. My office was on the top floor of the swankiest mall in Massachusetts so I knew I wouldn't be finding any new things there. But the easiest route to the street was traversing the first floor of Woman's Paradise, for the women-who-lunch crowd. I crept by the handbag collection trying not to look, but was stopped in my tracks by a group of shelved Crayola-colored bags, as bright and cheery as a child's yellow rain slicker. What were these sunny tote bags and purses? I loved each and every one. The were roomy with comfortable depths the would carry all train-riding paraphernalia such as a sandwich, umbrella, ballet flats and a hardcover book in addition to the regular wallet and lipstick. I was smitten.
As pretty and practical as Kate Spade's bags were, I knew if I bought one, I would have to forgo any new work clothes and wear my small misfit wardrobe another month. What to do? Remembering my grandmother's wise advice to choose quality over quantity and buying the very best I could afford, I was soon the new owner of a tamale-red boxy wool handbag that was oh so chic. Never mind that it wasn't waterproof which took it down a tick on the practicality scale but I didn't care - it was irresistible and fun.
I wore my new bag with all the dark neutrals I dug out of the bottom of my closet and soon, better and more paychecks finally allowed me to upgrade my clothes. But my Kate Spade (and all handbags by Kate Spade are called "My Kate Spade) carried on year after year until the fabric tore away at the bottom corners and all those hardcover books created a permanent dent. Still, I found more in Kate's collections to love right up to and including the fine black satchel I purchased the week I was hired for my last job.
I can't say I am completely loyal to Kate Spade bags - as a lifelong handbag freak, I have many, running the gamut from no names to vintage. But it was with utter shock and sadness when I heard that Kate Spade had taken her own life. It's hard not to feel as though I knew her since her name has been sitting front and center on my handbags and totes for almost 20 years. I have been loyal and believed in her whimsical style and have adopted elements of it in my own world. I've read and cherish her three delightful style books, Manners, Style, and Occasions which I have loaned to a bereft young co-worker this very morning. Happily, they fit right inside her Kate Spade. I just know she will enjoy Kate's breathless charm and kaleidoscope world.
I've been amazed at the outpouring of love on social media for Kate's work and influence. She showed us how to play dress-up again which we hadn't done since we were six. Because of Kate, we learned to love color in a black and white minimalist world, and to enjoy clothes and especially accessories. Her whimsical brooches, key chains and notebooks infused joy into our work worlds. One commenter on The New York Times marvelous article by Vanessa Friedman said that her Kate Spade handbag made her feel less alone at work. I know. Me too...
It's difficult to imagine that Kate Spade was struggling and it now appears as though her demons won. If she was mentally ill, my heart goes out to her and her family and friends. I only saw the outside - in her sorcery with handbags, clothes, and shoes, her way of entertaining, her fresh and pretty home goods. For me, she was a mood elevator whether it was her video ads, her products, or the many articles and images of her on the internet. And sadly, I was really hoping to watch her personal style as she morphed into a grey-haired woman of a certain age.
The image above is not of Kate Spade but culled from a recent ad for one of her shops. And as all things "Kate Spade" there's a laughter-that-wrinkles-your-nose charm about it. It's fresh and optimistic and strangely reassuring.