The fashion world lost a bright designer in Kate Spade this week, and it's still reeling. Now is the time when people are reflecting on her life, her work, her family, and just how much that first Kate Spade purchase meant to them.
Everyone is (correctly) meditating on Kate Spade as a savvy businesswoman with a bit of sparkle, but we should also be honoring her legacy according to her own wishes. When she was honored with Glamour's 2002 Women of the Year Award, Spade revealed—in her own words—that she wanted to be remembered for so much more than just her business prowess.
“If you’re as honest and fair as you can be, not only in business but in life, things will work out,” she said at the time. “I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman but as a great friend—and a heck of a lot of fun.”
That seems to be the case. The way Spade combined whimsy and fun with chic and accessible fashion is something thousands responded to, including Chelsea Clinton, Mindy Kaling, and hundreds of fans who paid tribute on social media. And it's part of why she was able to transcend the pitfalls of so many businesswomen in fashion to add a touch of sparkle to our lives.
Those who admired her did so with good reason. The late designer built a fashion empire in an era when it was even more difficult for women to be taken seriously in business. As her brand was just beginning to take shape when she kicked off the hunt for the perfect fabric material for her handbags, she was immediately met with overt sexism.
“You’re a pretty young lady,” a fabric manufacturer once told her in the early '90s, according to Glamour. “Why don’t you stop this nonsense about starting a business and go home and make some babies?”
That "nonsense" turned into a fashion empire worth $2.4 billion by the time Coach Inc. (now Tapestry) purchased the company in 2016, built out of Spade's 1-bedroom apartment. It was nothing to snuff at then, and it's certainly nothing to snuff at now.
To this day, the fashion industry—though fueled by female buyers—is dominated by men. A recent survey proved that only 14 percent of major brands are run by executives who are women. It makes it all the more striking, then, that Spade was able to break through, and do so with a brand that was unapologetically and exuberantly feminine.
Her pieces were chic and fashionable, but didn't cross the line into exclusive "members only" territory. The Kate Spade brand continues to be a friendly one, the kind of go-to that inspires you to throw on a huge glittery earring or a pop of bubblegum pink to brighten the room. It's not fussy or pretentious, and it's exhibit A for people who argue that fashion isn't stuffy, that it's really and truly fun.
Spade's effervescent personality and style sensibility, and the lightness she put out into the world, is part of what makes the way she died so startling. But it also reminds us that sadness doesn't discriminate and can come in many forms, even outwardly happy ones.
When someone dies who had impact on us—whether thorough a friendship, a memory, or even a polka dot handbag—it forces us to take a step back and reflect, both on their legacy and what the hole they left really means. In this time, it would do us all some good to remember not only that Spade was a successful designer and businesswoman, but that she approached her life in a way that made the world a happier place, with plenty of glitter and bows in tow.
She was, in her own words, a "heck of a lot of fun." And that's something worth aspiring to be.
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