From the FN Archives: Looking Back at Kate Spade’s 1999 FNAA Award

Kate Spade died today at age 55. The NYPD confirmed that she was found unconscious and unresponsive due to an apparent suicide. We pay tribute to the designer by looking back at her accomplishments. In 1999, she received the Launch of the Year award at the FNAAs, known as the Shoe Oscars.

Kate Spade has become something of a household name, as nearly every woman in the free world has purchased — or at least considered buying — one of her sleek bags over the past few years. Recognized by their chic simplicity, Spade’s smart totes grace the shelves of the nation’s finest department and specialty stores, and drape the shoulders of a diverse group of women.

Seeing a void in the accessories market, Spade and her husband, Andy, formed the company in January 1993. The idea was to create a line of fashionable but not too trendy bags. The line was initially small, consisting of six simple shapes, which ended up reinventing and revolutionizing the accessory market.

Spades latest success is in footwear. This past year, she proved she has what it takes to be a successful shoe designer in an extremely difficult market, partnering with New York-based GFW Group to launch her first footwear collection for fall/resort ’99. Although industry insiders for quite some time had been pushing her to produce a shoe line, she waited until she felt comfortable entering the market. “When it was finally right,” Spade said, “it was exciting. It was a whole new thing to take the same ideas we had in bags and interpret them as shoes. It’s been fun — like when we started the bags.”

The response during the past year has been stellar. From the start, fashion editors snatched up first samples to showcase in their magazines. “We’ve been so surprised with the response,” Spade said. “There has been great feedback.” Her colorful signature shoes arrived in stores in the beginning of November and immediately began blowing out.

Using the same design philosophy she applied to her handbags, Spade infused her first footwear collection with personal style and long-lasting utility. With the same classic fabrics and shapes, and intelligent use of color, the designer assembled a simple yet versatile debut collection of 15 to 18 day-to-evening pieces. The thongs, slingbacks and mules incorporated many of the same fabrications used in her handbags, including silk, canvas, leather and faille.

“Something elegant doesn’t have to mean formal,” Spade said of the line’s easygoing shapes. “A loafer can be elegant. I’m not interested in a big blowout. I like to see what works. It’s like a lab. I’m always cautious and like to hear about what is selling through the customers. They are the ultimate voice.”

In the end, the designer said, fashion is about feeling good. “I’m not interested in doing basics,” she said. “It has to be special. I want people to feel good when they wear it. If you pick your items carefully, they have to be things you can wear, put away and come back to a few seasons later. They’re things that are very special and discreet, that have a quiet strength.”

By Jennifer Mooney

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