Finally, the oppressive New York heat broke on Friday, and Kate Spade (the brand) heralded the cooler season, ringing it in with bells, whistles, a bit of glitter—and an inevitable pause for thought.
Though Kate Spade left her namesake line when she sold it to Neiman Marcus, and had no creative or financial control over the label since then, her death by suicide in June put the label’s New York Fashion Week show under an understandable spotlight.
But, unlike an award show, there would be no In Memoriam highlight reel of Spade headshots set to the tune of an overplayed acoustic ballad.
Instead, the brand that's known for its cheerful mentality, quirky use of colors, and tastefully kitsch detailing, chose to subtly honor its founder.
Accompanying each guest’s seat card was the phrase, “She left a little sparkle everywhere she went,” printed in the label’s go-to Baskerville font. The back of the card stock read, “In Loving Memory 1962-2018.”
Perhaps as a nod to the sentiment, flecks of glitter also lined the runway and embellished models’ manicures. Reps for the line would not comment to The Daily Beast on whether or not Spade’s death impacted the fall collection or runway show.
Spade’s family—husband and founder Andy Spade (brother to comedian David), 14-year-old daughter Frances Beatrix, and niece Rachel Brosnahan—were absent from the event.
However, celebrities like Kate Bosworth, Priyanka Chopra, and Elizabeth Olsen made an appearance during the first of two back-to-back shows.
Per the brand’s geek-chic aesthetic, the event was held at the New York Public Library. Along with having the sad distinction of being the first Fashion Week show held since Spade’s death, it also served as the debut of new creative director, Nicola Glass. (Glass took over from Deborah Lloyd, president and chief creative officer, after Tapestry, Inc. purchased Kate Spade in 2017.)
A day before her debut, Glass told Vogue, “I’ve always been attracted to the original ethos that [the brand launched with] in 1993—the thoughtful design, a modern use of color—and I saw so much opportunity within that for the brand, to refine and evolve the original codes of house in new ways.”
Looking at the collection, it’s clear that some references predate 1993. Nods to the '70s abounded, via hues included a faded lime green, mustard yellow, and an autumnal brown that resembled so many wood-paneled kitchens of the era.
In a recent New York magazine profile, Elyce Arons, Spade's longtime friend and former business partner, described the designer's best work as enduring pieces that "could be [from] ten years ago or ten years from now."
Glass continued this tradition, with schoolgirlish sweater vests and brocade A-line mini dresses, but did inject a surprising slinkiness into low-necked, figure-hugging midis.
Along with a sweetly-patterned baby pink floral raincoat that elicited many double takes from attendees, one star of the event was the well-known 'Spade' symbol.
As Glass told Fashionista, “One of the things I really started with [when designing] was the spade itself...I think it’s such a great shape, so I looked at really modernizing it and playing with it in a way that could be both subtle and bold.”
On the subdued end, the symbol was used as a clasp for a mini purse. More obviously, it patterned a green and pink balloon-sleeved wrap top and matching bandana.
Models first walked down the runway to Suzanne Vega's 1981 song "Tom's Diner." (Florence + The Machine's "You've Got the Love" was also played.) The haunting song, an ode to an implacable nostalgia, mimicked the brand's timeless character.
In the days after Spade’s death, the brand posted a short statement on Instagram, which read in part, “We honor all the beauty [Spade] brought into the world.” CEO Anna Bakst pledged that the brand would donate $1 million to mental health organizations such as The Crisis Text Line.
That effort, and the understated nod to Spade’s “sparkle” on the seat cards, may be the end of the company’s public acknowledgement of the tragedy. But it is enough.
The whimsical pluckiness of the designs serve as a comforting reminder that even in the wake of darkness, Spade the brand still determinedly sparkles.