The Spades started out just outside Detroit. It was the 1960s and Sam Spade was an ad man for the Big Three automakers while his beautiful wife, Judy, cared for their three boys. Sam liked to disappear. One day he didn’t come home for six months, so Judy put the house on the market. The day the house sold, Sam reappeared and begged for another chance. He’d found a job in Phoenix, he said.
“I said, ‘O.K., one more shot,’” Judy told me. “When we finally got out to Phoenix, that turned out to be a lie—he didn’t actually have a job there.”
It didn’t take long for Sam to disappear for good. It was 1968 and Judy and the boys—8-year-old Bryan, 6-year-old Andy and 4-year-old David—were pretty much stranded in the desert. Judy told them, “No use sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves!” She moved the brood to Scottsdale and over the next decade often worked three jobs.
“The boys took care of themselves,” said Judy, now 71 and retired, speaking from the mountain town of Show Low, Ariz., where she lives with her third husband. “But they were very good at keeping themselves entertained.”
She said that while she would occasionally catch Bryan gazing out the window longingly waiting for Sam—the man in the gray flannel suit—to amble up the driveway, she never had to worry about Andy.
“Andy was very sensitive and loved everything,” she said. “He was just terribly interested in everything. I think he’s ADD, but I didn’t know that word then. He would have 10 projects going at a time.” Often Andy’s projects resulted in gifts for his mother. One card, she remembers, began, “Dear Mom and Mom.” (Bryan now works in construction; David is the famous sitcom actor.)
I had lunch with Andy Spade, now 47 and married to handbag designer Kate Spade, recently at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan, catty-corner to Mr. Spade’s new venture on Great Jones Street. Partners & Spade is an advertising and branding studio which also functions as a gallery and store on the weekends. Mr. Spade and his partner, Anthony Sperduti, sell a surreal hodgepodge of manic, vaguely macabre items that, depending on your sense of irony, are either very clever or kind of crap. Or maybe both! Which is the fun part. Such as a photography book, Blow, which is a collection of found photographs of kids blowing out their birthday candles. It’s $20. Others photo books include Air Conditioner Graffiti, Bags in Trees and Dirty Blinds and Dead Plants.
Mr. Spade says they’ve signed a six-book deal with HarperCollins, for a series called “It.” In their store you can also buy one of collector George Glazer’s old globes, which range from $175 to $14,800. And J. P. Williams is willing to part ways with some of his old staplers, which are all functional and up till now have been locked away in his closet in Tribeca, for $70 to $200 each. Another of Mr. Williams’ obsessions—soiled gloves that have been run over by cars—are $20 a glove. Five have sold so far. Mr. Spade suggests framing them, preferably in a shadow-box. In another glass case, labeled “Vulture Tchoctkes,” is an assortment of Lehman Brothers schwag, such as fishing hats, coffee mugs and onesies.
“The front space hopefully will sell some merchandise,” Mr. Spade said. For example, Bruce Herzog, a partner at the white-shoe law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, recently bought one of Mr. Spade’s installations of found books for $5,000. “But some of the things are just sort of for display,” said Mr. Spade. “A lot of friends of mine are collectors who never really showed their work, and I want to show their work. The studio is really what I think will pay most of the bills.
“I would never build a business that doesn’t make money, I just don’t like the idea of just doing something—I mean that’s what my hobbies are,” he continued. “People don’t want to work for companies that can’t grow. I mean, my partner will leave if this company doesn’t make money.”
He said that while people might walk in and assume the place will be out of business in a flash, Partners & Spade has four significant clients, including J. Crew, for whom they designed a men’s store in the old Liquor Store Bar in Tribeca. They’re currently in talks with Coca-Cola about a limited-edition soft drink that would only be available in installation form.
Mr. Spade believes that this sort of unconventional stuff can be effective in getting people interested in a brand. He’s talking to the Strand book store about possible collaborations they might do with J. Crew.
“A lot of stores are very passive,” he said. “You have to think it’s not a store, it’s just a product.”
Similarly, he said that his work would suffer if he was trapped on the fourth floor of an office building in midtown trying to build some giant ad agency. The storefront allows him to work with and be inspired by artists and collectors he knows and loves, such as Miranda July and director Mike Mills, both of whom have work on display right now, as well as strangers, such as the guy who called up and said he had some found photos he wants to show him. Before hanging up, he asked Mr. Spade if he had seen the new Damien Hirst–designed skateboard. “I’m 47 years old and the first thing I did was run over to Supreme and buy the Damien Hirst board,” said Mr. Spade.
Mr. Spade discovered skateboarding in 1976 in Arizona. His mother had remarried to a brilliant doctor, Howard Hyde, a passionate hunter who taught them chess and spoke German at the dinner table. Skateboarding was Andy and David’s salvation. All through high school, Andy would search for empty swimming pools to skate. Stevie Nicks had a nice one in Scottsdale, which they called the Pink Sink because it was pink. Or they would drive out to the desert and skate giant concrete pipes. His grades were atrocious. Meanwhile, brother David did well in school, had a coin collection and was a member of the chess team.