While the first date is always alluring, long term partners know it is the second date that counts. Kate Spade founders and power couple KATE VALENTINE & ANDY SPADE have been on that second date for over 30 years now. The duo spoke with THE IMPRESSION about their new venture, Frances Valentine, how they heart their buisness family and daughter, changing her surname from Spade to Valentine, broken down cars, and can ‘lighting strike twice’.
BY KENNETH RICHARD
KENNETH RICHARD: Andy and Kate, congratulations on the new venture and looking forward to hearing all about it. Thank you for taking the time.
ANDY SPADE: Thank you for everything, for taking the time to be with us.
KENNETH RICHARD: I would love to hear the definitive story about the coupling of you two and how you met.
ANDY SPADE: We met in college at Arizona State University. We worked at a clothing store – I think in 1983/84. I was working in the men’s side and she was working in the women’s side, and we used to cross paths. We’d flirt with one another – I had an old car that kept breaking down and she would give me a ride home in her Opel.
KATE VALENTINE: No, it wasn’t an Opel. It was close, a Mazda something.
ANDY SPADE: It had a big logo on the side. If you buy the dealership model, it’s like buying a model home. Her brother bought her the model car, the one no one wanted because it had the big logo. It was so bad, which was super.
KATE VALENTINE: It said LeSport on the side, and I was like, “I don’t care, it’s a car.”
KENNETH RICHARD: And it ran.
KATE VALENTINE: Yes! Oh my God, thank you for pointing that out.
ANDY SPADE: So, your question is how did we meet? Hers ran and…
KATE VALENTINE: Well, I kept looking in the window, and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s such a great car.” But it would just sit there forever, in the parking lot, like day after day and night and day.
ANDY SPADE: So, I would call Kate and she gave me a ride home every night. And that’s how we became friends.
KENNETH RICHARD: You got to be more than friends.
KATE VALENTINE: By accident.
KENNETH RICHARD: By accident?
ANDY SPADE: No, I just mean that we just suddenly fell in love with each other.
KATE VALENTINE: You really liked music.
ANDY SPADE: Yeah, I liked it.
KATE VALENTINE: I thought you had really good taste in music.
ANDY SPADE: Well, you liked Cat Stevens a lot. I did too. We also like James Taylor. We shared music, like The Replacements, and I turned you onto The Smiths.
KATE VALENTINE: And you turned me onto R.E.M.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, New York happened after this? Who went to New York first?
KATE VALENTINE: I did.
KENNETH RICHARD: With your car LeSport?
KATE VALENTINE: Oh no, we didn’t drive to New York in that; I flew here. I landed at Penn Station and walked from there to Elyce’s apartment. It sounds like one of those old stories that you want to tell your children, and I have lots. I got there, had this much money and my backpack on, thought to myself, Penn Station, Port Authority is at 34th and Elyce is on 52nd, that’s not much of a walk. I grew up in Kansas City; you walk long distances.
ANDY SPADE: You never expect to have anything given to you. You’re lucky if you have one little thing.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, from 34th to 52nd Street, and a nice couch waiting for you.
KATE VALENTINE: No, a futon. Elyce had it, and we shared it. Two bedrooms, one bath, five girls, and then Andy showed up and said, “Oh, I’m not going to live there.” So we got this place on Renwick Street. Do you know where that is?
KENNETH RICHARD: No.
ANDY SPADE: It’s one block long and it’s on the west side.
KATE VALENTINE: It’s literally between Canal and Spring but way down the west side. So, when I was working at Mademoiselle Magazine, I would have cars sent down to get all of the luggage and they always had difficulty finding it.
ANDY SPADE: That’s the weirdest block in the city.
KATE VALENTINE: It had a doorbell.
ANDY SPADE: It had an 8-year old doorbell. Remember the 8-year old doorbell?
KATE VALENTINE: But there was no elevator, so you had to walk up and I thought that was fine.
ANDY SPADE: I was so happy.
KATE VALENTINE: It had Roy Lichtenstein hand-painted molding, and I remember saying that to my sister who came, when she was like, “Oh, my God, I can’t wait to tell grandmother that you’re living like this.” And I said, “What? I’m not living so poorly; it’s Roy Lichtenstein molding.”
ANDY SPADE: The bathroom was in the bedroom, and the apartment was only 100 square feet.
KATE VALENTINE: It was tiny. The shaving cream and Doritos were all in the same cupboard.
KENNETH RICHARD: How did you end up in Mademoiselle from the futon?
KATE VALENTINE: It’s very funny, because I went to a temp agency, and I was like, “I’m in New York and I need work. I have to work, I need to make money.”
So they sent me to this place to type and I kept whiting everything out. The woman came to me at the end of the day and say, “I think we both know this isn’t going to work out.” I said, “I know, I’m so sorry. I tried.” She said, “I know, I can see you’re trying, but I don’t think you’re coming back tomorrow.” So I went home and cried. In the morning, I was sleeping in, and then I get a call from the temp agency and they said, “You have to go to Mademoiselle Magazine. Now! Within an hour.” I threw on this outfit and ran out the door. I was new to New York; so I didn’t know how to get from West 52nd to where they were on Madison at that time on 45th or 44th. And I showed up like a windstorm. My boss was like, “Do this, Do that!” What a pace! I was thrilled and stayed there until all hours at night.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, this is the time, basically, when those editors came in with a fur coat and you had to be there before they hit the floor, right?
KATE VALENTINE: Oh, if I were to be five minutes late Mercedes in reception would say, “Suzanne called.” That’s when you didn’t have an iPhone, so I’d look at my watch and see, “Oh wow, I’m five minutes late.” She would say, “I don’t mean 9:05, I don’t mean 9:01, I mean 9 o’clock.” And I was like, “Got it. I will never be late again.”
KENNETH RICHARD: So, Andy, while Kate was at Mademoiselle at 8:59, what were you doing during at this time?
ANDY SPADE: I was writing ads for the military, Army National Guard. It was direct response advertising. And I also got a job writing for Merrill Lynch. But, I had to actually write ads to make people interested in going to military, which was pretty much my anti thing, right. I was working in an ad agency, writing ads to convince people to be in the military at that time, Kate was doing what she was doing, and catering at night and writing ads during the day in this little apartment.
KENNETH RICHARD: Did you ever keep a little of that copy off to the side? Sure some of it was hysterical.
KATE VALENTINE: Yes. I’ll say, you kept a lot of copy. Then you would make fake ads for things that you thought were things that you would do later.
ANDY SPADE: Yeah. I wrote the first ad I have ever written in my life, and I’m still hanging to that. My ad was “Standing up for what America stands for,” and my creative director said, “That’s not as good as the one which said, ‘Hometown Heroes.’” I really believed that standing up for what America stands for was a better way to write it. It felt stronger. I was just a kid, maybe twenty-two, but I am a patriot.
KENNETH RICHARD: I believe it. You came in wearing red, white and blue. We talk to a lot of creatives about how influential hanging out in your suburban neighborhood was. Then bringing that to the big city. How was that for you?
ANDY SPADE: If you really want to know, it was growing up in a small town where I was hanging out at a 7/11 to get some people to buy beer for me, you know, and just being a kid. I had never been to New York before. When I came to New York with my lovely wife, I wondered, “Can I apply my ideas to this city?” So I opened Jack Spade to do what I did in my garage, except in New York City. I opened Jack Spade next to other stores and they said, “This is old fashioned.” I said, “No, it’s actually postmodern in the weirdest way.” It’s in the middle of the best stores in the world. For me, it just came from my heart. I was sort of like a child putting my motorcycle there, skateboards there, and stuff I did as a kid.
KENNETH RICHARD: In a way, you were leading an authenticity movement. Going back to your heritage before going back to your heritage was the thing to do.
ANDY SPADE: That’s what I’m saying, I do believe that’s true, I went back to my roots because there’s nothing that I can do other than what I do. So Jack Spade is something that came out of my childhood and that was kind of to your point. It was very backward and yet forward at the same time. It’s like childhood things and trophies, and bicycles and motorcycles. To me it was beautiful and pure and honest. I’m not trying to make it anything else.
KENNETH RICHARD: And where do you think that conviction came from, because during that time you were sandwiched between Costume National and Helmut Lang?
ANDY SPADE: What I knew was what I knew, and in the context of New York, it was actually modern to put all these things in from Arizona, Michigan and Kansas City, where I grew up. It was like a refreshment.
KATE VALENTINE: It’s what kind of took people back for a bit. They were expecting something; yet Andy delivered a little bit of suburbia while saying, “I’m not embarrassed to do that.”
ANDY SPADE: When I came to New York, I started meeting people who were really fascinating to me and the idea of bringing my ideas to the context of the city, was something I wanted to do rather than try to be like other people. To be ourselves would be a modern thing in the city of New York.
Once I understood the city, I realized that I can’t beat Versace but I can just be myself and that would be something new to bring to the city, which is why we love this city, New York City.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, let’s talk about New York and the next moves, basically, from Mademoiselle to your decision to start your own business. May I ask why?
KATE VALENTINE: I told Andy, I moved up from assistant, from tying shoes on all the models during shoot, getting sneakers, getting coffee, ironing, doing everything. But I understood that the editors also had a lot of pressure. So once I moved to senior fashion editor, I remember thinking I don’t know where else there is to go in this world that I would like.
ANDY SPADE: Do you mind if I jump in?
KATE VALENTINE: Are you going to tell that story?
ANDY SPADE: Yeah.
KENNETH RICHARD: ‘That’ story?
ANDY SPADE: It’s a good story. One day someone treated her assistant poorly and I walked to her little apartment, and Kate was in the bathtub crying. She said, “I quit.” I said, “Why?” She said, “They treated my assistant poorly.” I said, “They always treated you poorly; why are you mad that they treated your assistant poorly?” She said, “I can’t take that. She’s a young girl.”
KATE VALENTINE: Yeah, they did yell at her inappropriately. And I just thought it was so extreme, I was like, “You can yell at me like that and I can take it. I went through it. But this isn’t the way I’m going to bring up the next generation. You cannot talk to my assistant like that.”
KENNETH RICHARD: And you quit?
KATE VALENTINE: They were like buzz off, and I was like, “Okay, I quit.” They made me stay for six weeks until they found a replacement. I showed her everything, where everything was. Everyone laughed at me because I returned everything meticulously. They would write me notes and say, “Oh my God, are you joking? You sent every piece of eyewear back to us, like, to the piece.” I said, “Oh, yeah, I keep track of everything.” I’m very, very OCD.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, the assistant situation prompted you to quit and then decide that you wanted to go into business for yourself?
KATE VALENTINE:We actually sat at a Mexican restaurant, I’ll never forget it. Andy said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to start something. I feel like I want to be my own boss, because I know how to do it differently. I wouldn’t be the same kind of boss.” And he said, “What would it be?” and I was like, “Seriously, I was thinking of travel agency. It’s all over the map.” Then he said, “You adore bags.” “I know, but really, Andy, do I want to start a bag company?” And he was like, “Yeah, how hard can that be?”
ANDY SPADE: I was equally as scared; I just wanted her to be happy.
KENNETH RICHARD: It’s interesting you had the corporate culture picked out before you actually had the product.
KATE VALENTINE:We did know the culture, and you’re right. We both agreed that we would never talk to anyone that way, ever. We even have our little issues now, when you have someone talking on the phone or by text. Who talks to people like that? I was so shocked.
ANDY SPADE: You can do it either way, and there are choices you make. You can motivate by fear, or you can motivate by inspiration. And I think we both love the idea of not creating a fearful environment.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, fast forward past the growth and passing of the torch in your first business. Why back into the fold?
KATE VALENTINE:It’s a very funny question, because I didn’t really have this urge until my daughter – she’s in 5th grade now – got older. I just thought, “Oh, she’s so active at her school.” I’m very busy, I’m the class mom.”
ANDY SPADE: Kate runs her own class and the Brearley School general store. All the other schools are coming out to see what she would make for the tote bag. What people don’t know – is that even though she was working 10 to 10, she was also head of a charity that took care of abused children and women — but she won’t tell you that, so I’ll tell you that. She spent a lot of time helping kids.
When Kate and I started, we didn’t have any savings. When people come and ask me, “How do you start a company?” I reply that we never started a company, we just made a bag. We just made a product that was really good. And that’s how we’re starting now. The product will define the future of the company. If the product doesn’t sell, we don’t have a company. A company is a byproduct of the product. We always try to make good product, which we like. You love shoes; you make a good shoe that people want to buy. Kids are daunted by the idea of starting a company.
KATE VALENTINE: But remember when we started, I said, “There’s already coca cola, why would I want to do the same thing and do Coca Cola 2?” And when we did that square bag, I was like, okay, that’s not out there. But I couldn’t call any editors for advice. And I couldn’t call any designers because they’d be like, “I’m not going to give out my ideas.” So we did it through the yellow pages.
ANDY SPADE: The first bag was made when we couldn’t get any fabric from anyone. Kate called the potato sac company to get the burlap. She went to Yellow Pages and called for the burlap.
KATE VALENTINE: NYCP Corp; I’ll never forget it. They asked me what I wanted and they sent me three different qualities.
ANDY SPADE: We had nothing, honestly, like no money in the bank.
KATE VALENTINE: But we always paid the factories somehow.
ANDY SPADE: We always paid them.
KATE VALENTINE: And they were always shocked by it.
ANDY SPADE: Our first bag, everyone thinks it was an Isla bag, but it wasn’t. It was a potato sac burlap bag.
KATE VALENTINE: It was in Vogue. There was a big picture of it on the last page, “Last Look.” I was like, “Oh my God!” and it was this little burlap bag that I had done.
ANDY SPADE: When Katy called the potato sac company, they didn’t require big minimums to do it. Then she got raffia from Sixth Avenue and I took all my 401k money and just bet on this thing.
KENNETH RICHARD: You just love focusing on it.
KATE VALENTINE:Right! There’s like a little weird thing that wasn’t there — I kind of thought it, but I didn’t really think it would ever take off. I kept saying to Andy, “Nobody’s buying,” and I was crying, and he said, “Well, who did?” and I said, “Barneys, Fred Segal.” And he said, “I think you’re off to a good start.” The orders were tiny; they didn’t even cover the show. I’m very conservative.
ANDY SPADE: The show was twelve hundred dollars. Our orders were less than that. When Katie said Barneys, Fred Segal and Charivari, I was like, we’re off to a good start. Katy’s crying and she said, “We’re losing money. ” I’m not one to say something about myself, but I do believe in supporting your spouse and she is good. So I just said, “Keep going.”
KATE VALENTINE: Yes, you did — because I was crying. I remember him being in the shower, and I said, “The webbing people want a $500 minimum”… and he opens the curtain and said, “Katy, it’s $500. You win or lose, it’s $500.”
KENNETH RICHARD: So why again?
KATE VALENTINE:Hmm, good question… Michael Kors asked me the funniest question. I went to a dinner right after it was announced that we were going to do this again, and he asked, “What is wrong with you? Why would you put your hand back in the blender?” And I started laughing so hard because he is the funniest person alive. We were at the elevator when we were leaving the party and people said, “The Spades are coming in, they can fit in.” He said, “I can put them in my little bag and throw them over my back.” I wanted to do it but I just was kind of hesitant and may still be a bit, but I feel that I just wanted to do it again. I say this to my daughter, “It’s better to have tried and fail than to never have tried at all.”
ANDY SPADE: I think there’s someone out there who will like what we like. Kate won’t tell you—she likes to create. It’s great to create.
The need to create is instinctual and I can say for myself that to work with Elyce and Paola and our friends, for me, it’s very important to continue creating because that’s what we have to offer. We’re not good at a lot of things, but we’re good at creating things and I think that’s what we offer the world.
KATE VALENTINE: Well, it’s not the world — we’re just creating things, and hoping people like them. We’re not U2 and we’re not doing something in Africa.
KENNETH RICHARD: So, when I look back on the creative work that you have your thumbprints on, there’s irreverence to it that I don’t see many people capture.
KATE VALENTINE: Even before that, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I would say even before that. I would almost get mad at Andy and say, “OMG, you’re joking, you did a photo shoot and there was not a shoe or bag in sight.”
And he would have an image of a guy tossing a little boy up in a Halloween costume and catching him and Andy was like, “That’s such a great thing for you to think about in your head.”
KENNETH RICHARD: Right, like the mother bending down to tie her child’s Halloween costume in front of the suburban house with the car in the driveway. There was an embraceability, but also an edge to that, that I have not seen recaptured.
ANDY SPADE: It’s the subtlety.
KATE VALENTINE:Andy went out there, because I am never allowed on shoot.
ANDY SPADE: You’re allowed, but you just can’t come.
KATE VALENTINE: Because Andy says I act like a client. I’m like, “Where are the shoes? Where are the bags?”
And I was trying to put it all in there and explain this is the best seller and Andy said that it doesn’t fit—it doesn’t fit for the moment and he was going for a moment.
KENNETH RICHARD: How does a creative couple — one a brander, one a designer – resolve conflict about the look, about not putting in the best seller?
ANDY SPADE: I try to channel Kate’s vision every day. It’s very hard because she’s very — I’ve never used this word ever in my life… but in my mind, you’re mesmerizing and you teach me every day. When I try to do something…. I think of her in the back of my mind and it’s very hard to do. When I take a shot, like holding a shoe — I’m always thinking about Kate in everything that I do, but she would say, “Why isn’t there a bracelet there or a ring there?” For me, it’s a very difficult task, but what I love is that I’m trying every day to make sure she loves what I try to do every day.
KATE VALENTINE: That is so not true.
ANDY SPADE: No, I’m trying to be honest. I think it’s very hard to translate Kate’s ideas into what I try to do, in my work.
KENNETH RICHARD: You have a deep understanding of the client.
ANDY SPADE: I hope so, I mean—she’s super cool and so is my mother, her mother and Elyce. So when I look at a photograph and I see she cared about the red rubber band, and she’s picking up a piece of gum — that resonates with me as a photographer.
KENNETH RICHARD: You’ve seen marketing change; the landscape has changed completely. How do you feel about marketing today?
ANDY SPADE: I think we have to be very special. Make it something personal. Marketing, to me… I hate the word; I don’t even use the word anymore.
KENNETH RICHARD: What do you use?
ANDY SPADE: I use ‘personality’ as a way to talk about what we do. It really goes back to the people who are making it. Brands are made up by marketing people. But this is really a group of people. Paola, Elyce and I, we’re creating a special thing. Branding has been really overused, I’m really concerned about making it more personal. So it’s a very challenging thing to make sure that this whole company is about people and building something. For me, it’s about everyone’s personality involved in this whole company.
KENNETH RICHARD: What are you two looking forward to?
KATE VALENTINE: A great company. I hope —
I believe it would be fun if lightning strikes twice. I’m not sure if that happens, but I would be happy. I would also tell my daughter, you can try and fail, but it’s better to have tried, even though you really don’t want to fail. You have to recognize it.
ANDY SPADE: I look forward to Elyce, Paola, Kate and I being a family company, rather than a designer company. It’s a family of people who want to do something well and treat people well and grow together. At this point in our lives, we want to grow together. Elyce has been one of our dearest friends in the world. For me, it’s about making great things for people who love me and being around my friends.
KATE VALENTINE: It’s really fun, that’s the only reason that made me go back in. When you asked that earlier — I thought it would be interesting to get back with Elyce, Andy, Paola, that seemed fun. It’s about growing up together.
ANDY SPADE: It’s about life and it’s all about people. The only reason we’ve come back into it is to be back with our friends and do what we love. We haven’t seen each other in a long time. This time around, we wanted great, great things.
KATE VALENTINE: I would never have done this without the people that I trust, never, ever in a million years. When the four of us got together, it was about an idea.
KENNETH RICHARD: Thank you so much for the time. Looking forward to sharing.
ANDY SPADE: Thank you. If anything she did was inappropriate, I apologize on her behalf, okay.
KATE VALENTINE: Thank you.
ANDY SPADE: Thank you for having us.