A journalism-school graduate born in Kansas City, Missouri, Katherine Brosnahan started her career in the accessories department at New York City-based “Mademoiselle” magazine in 1986. As she worked her way up to Fashion Editor/Head of Accessories, she noticed a gap in the handbag market. She wasn’t seeing enough practical, classically styled purses in surprising or fun colors and materials.
Brosnahan left journalism, and with her fiancé, Andy Spade, a superstar in the marketing world, she launched her own handbag brand, Kate Spade, in 1993, with a nylon tote bag. Andy and Kate married a year later, and the couple ran the company together for 17 years before they sold it.
Describing her line as “L.L. Bean meets Prada,” Kate Spade found great success with her minimalist, preppy bags in basic fabrics like nylon, silk, or tweed in neutrals and vibrant colors like grass green and bright orange. In 1996, Kate Spade was honored with the Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent in accessories, which made her a household name.
Unlike haute-couture designer It Bags, which sell for thousands, Kate Spade purses sell for hundreds. Instead of overwhelming the wearer with the “statement” or personality of the bag, a Kate Spade is meant to go with the carrier’s personality, whether she’s a “renegade debutante, carpooling mother, or corporate executive."
Spade found much of her inspiration from vintage handbags. To keep her prices down, Spade focused on functionality and alternative materials to leather, including melton wool, Liberty prints, Harris tweed, oilskin, linen, and nylon. As her products spread to stores across the nation, she expanded her line to include snap-top satin evening bags with chain handles, linen and nylon shoulder bags, faux-suede shoppers, backpacks, and canvas tote bags.