Andy Spade Is a Giant in New York

“Andy was super-tan and super-cool, he had actual highlights in his hair that came naturally from the sun,” David Spade told me. “There was one time I caught him with a bottle of Sun-In, but that was later on down the line.”

Andy’s obsession with skateboarding led to an interest in fashion. He took pride in his collection of customized Vans and Quicksilver shorts, which he would order through Skateboarder magazine.

One night when David was tagging along to a party, he came down the stairs wearing a light blue shirt and light blue pants.

“Andy was like, ‘You’re not going to wear that out, are you?’” said David. “I was like, ‘Yeah, why, what’s wrong with it?’ And he was like, ‘Well, it doesn’t match.’ I was like, ‘Dude! What’re you talking about, it’s light blue and light blue—what could match more than that?’” (David says these days his brother occasionally asks him if he’s still dressing like a “Hollywood jackass.”)

Toward the end of high school, Dr. Hyde began locking himself in his room and talking to himself in German. And drinking. Meanwhile the boys’ dad, Sam, would sweep through town and take the kids to happy hour. “I was not going to spend time being angry, so we just laughed,” Judy said. “And I wonder if that’s why David is a comedian.” (David later put Sam up for 10 years in L.A.; now Andy has “hot potato”—as the boys call their father—set up at his and Kate’s place in Southampton.)

After high school, Andy enrolled in Arizona State University and took a job at Carter’s clothing store, where he met Kate, who worked in the women’s department. His 1971 BMW was always breaking down, and Kate gave him rides. They began dating.

Andy was 19 when his stepfather, Dr. Hyde, turned one of his many shotguns on himself

In his last year of college, he started a small advertising firm with a buddy, Alan Hannawell and they called it Spade & Hannawell. After graduation, Kate said she was going to take a trip to Europe; Andy said he couldn’t afford it, so she went by herself. On the way home, she stopped in New York and got hired at Mademoiselle.

It was 1986. Andy took his $1,000 savings and set off. They got a 300-square-foot apartment on Renwick Street and Andy discovered the flea markets and suddenly all his weekends were booked. “At the beginning I would go with him,” Kate told me. “And now he drags [daughter] Bea with him, and now she doesn’t want to go anymore.”

Andy did odd jobs like catering until he landed a spot at the wild new ad firm, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. He worked on the Kenneth Cole and Charivari accounts; for Charivari he came up with “Wake Me When It’s Over,” which was meant to poke fun at a massive Gap campaign. He produced stickers that they handed out to kids, who would slap them on the huge posters of guys with goatees wearing Gap khakis. When he was 24, he won the Golden Pencil for his copy for the discount clothing store Saint Laurie: “The look is Ralph Lauren, the price is Ralph Kramden.”

In 1993, they decided Kate would quit her job, and they started the bag company, which blossomed with Kate as designer and Andy as C.E.O. A year later, Andy made Kate take the Jitney out to the Hamptons where he had candles and a bottle of bubbly on ice. “We’d been together so long, I was like, ‘Really? Okay,’” Kate said.

In 1996 Kate Spade opened its first stand-alone store. Three years later Neiman Marcus bought half the company for $33 million and Andy started Jack Spade, which sold men’s bags. He set up a store on Greene Street, which became a hangout for hipsters and graffiti kids, and also a place for him to showcase his book collection. He said he doesn’t particularly like hipsters, never wanted to be a hipster store—but, he recognized the value of the hipster in terms of getting good buzz.

In November 2006, Neiman Marcus negotiated the sale of Kate Spade to Liz Claiborne Inc. for $124 million. Part of the deal was Kate and Andy staying on board in their roles as designer and chief operating officer until August 2007.

These days Kate is eager to “be still” and spend as much time as possible with their 4-year-old daughter, Frances Beatrix (Bea) Spade.

For Andy, the question was, “‘what would you want to do next?’” he said. “For me, it was I want to get closer to the work. I took a year off basically to focus on making my books.” And his movies. And a bunch of other stuff. Like Partners & Spade.

“He’s always got about a 10 ideas going, but it works for him, let’s say 8 times out of 10,” his mother told me. “Recently, a man said to me, ‘He’s a giant in New York.’ That cracked me up.”

smorgan@observer.com

Andy Spade Is a Giant in New York