The term 'power couple' is up there with 'authentic' for being one of the most overused terms of 2016. But if Kate and Andy Spade are anything, they're both of those things to a tee. The American duo first met while at university in Arizona in the early ‘80s and were working at the same clothing store when 21-year-old Andy's beat-up car wouldn’t let him turn the key. Kate “from the Midwest” offered him a lift, the young students became best friends, and—not without a few hiccups along the way—life as a couple came to be.
Fast forward over 30 years, a near-teen daughter called Bea, and an internationally renowned brand built from the ground-up with a successful sale, and the New York-based duo are well into phase two of life together. After a break to focus on their family, Andy now splits his time between loungewear line Sleepy Jones and his design agency-come-marketing hub, Partners & Spade, (which is charged with the success of prescription eyewear brand Warby Parker and direct-to-consumer shaving kit Harry’s, amongst others), while Kate is dipping her toes back into fashion with a new range of bags and shoes called Frances Valentine. Each has a stake in the other’s brand, which are unified if only by their ability to straddle whimsy with quality product and commercial profitability without ever feeling trite.
This week on Semaine, the couple opens the doors to their Park Avenue home and explain what it takes to succeed at life when you’re joined at the heart and at the hip.
Semaine: How did you meet?
Andy: “Kate gave me a ride home over a three to six month period because I was broke and couldn’t afford to get my car fixed. At first we were really good friends and then we started dating. We were both at school and only 20 and 21. Kate graduated before me and we had plans to move to San Francisco, so she went to Europe while I finished up in Arizona. Then she flew back via New York and called me to say that she couldn’t make it to San Fran because she needed to work in Manhattan. She had a job at Conde Nast when I phoned to say that I wanted to come too. She was living with five girls in a tiny apartment, so we found a small one-bed on Canal Street and moved straight in.”
Semaine: What made you decide to sell your namesake company in 2007?
Kate: “We were presented with the perfect opportunity to leave. It’s not that it wasn’t fun anymore, but it had become so much and we wanted to focus on being a family with Bea. We had already sold part of it in 1999 to Neiman's and the situation came about to sell the rest. It felt like a sign and we haven't looked back once since.”
Semaine: How did the idea for Sleepy Jones and Frances Valentine come about?
Andy: “I really liked the idea of making pyjamas into clothing and I couldn't believe that no one else was doing it. I call the brand not quite ready-to-wear because you can sleep in the clothes that we make, but you can also wear them on the street.”
Kate: "As Bea got older though, I felt a little itch and the idea started for Frances Valentine. Elyce Arons, who was a partner at Kate Spade, and our former design director, Paola Venturi who’d been working at Prada, were both game and it just seemed like the perfect time to take the leap.”
Semaine: What do you most enjoy about building your new brands from the ground-up?
Kate: “That there’s much less pressure and we can let things happen organically. I was nervous because I felt like we had such a good go at accessories at Kate Spade and I didn’t want to go head-to-head with our namesake or step on its toes, but I love to design shoes and I love working with Paola, so it just feels like fun.”
Andy: “I love start-ups, so the most rewarding process for me has always been building companies from the ground-up. As soon as it gets huge, you’ve achieved the business goal, but you’re not as involved in the design process or all of the other fun bits.”
Semaine: What are your design processes and how do they differ?
Andy: “I usually go through all of my vintage archives and collection of patterns and am inspired by absolutely anything. I like to come up with conceptual ideas and then either my team or Kate tells me if it’s crazy. I’m an ideas man through and through and keep notebooks everywhere with half written thoughts. It drives everyone mad.”
Kate: “I’m the opposite. I like things to be organised and cannot work in a crazy environment at all. At Frances Valentine, Paola does the sketching and all of the technical parts and I’m responsible for the colour and materials. Andy comes up with fun concepts like a shoe heel inspired by a book!”
Semaine: What’s the key to balancing a happy working relationship with a steady home life?
Kate: “Time and patience. We've been together for over 30 years, so at this point it’s easy. Of course we argue—because who the hell doesn’t—but when it comes to creativity and our family we always find a way to agree.”
Andy: “I always joke that I’m ADD and she’s OCD, so we have a way of balancing each other out.”
Semaine: How easy is it to switch off from work?
Kate: “We both make an effort to be home for dinner every evening to spend time as a family with Bea. We’re pretty good at making after 6pm a work-free zone. I think as you grow, you adapt, and the things that are important to you are easy to make time for.”
Semaine: When did Park Avenue become home?
Kate: “We thought about having a family and I wanted to experience living in Woody Allen’s classic New York, which can only be found up here. We moved from a huge open loft to this space 16 years ago. If you asked us when we were younger where we would end up living, neither of us ever would have said the Upper East Side.”
Andy: “I was kicking people out of our stairwell in Tribeca and the thought of having a child there just didn’t appeal to me. I love the trees up here and I get the best of both worlds because my offices are downtown so I still go there every day.”
Semaine: How would you describe your approach to interior design?
Kate: “Non-specific. If we love something, it usually has to do with a certain kind of colour or material, so we put our home together piece by piece. Andy has always been very interested in furniture, so he takes more control in that area. Our friend and interior designer, Steven Sclaroff helped us decide where everything should go.”
Andy: “Not minimal! Kate loves to collect ashtrays, lighters, and cigarette boxes, even though neither of us smoke in the house. Over time, we’ve also amassed a lot of modern art which I think keeps our traditionally designed apartment from looking too old or stuffy.”
Semaine: Andy—what do you enjoy most about your work at Partners & Spade?
Andy: “I love that my partner, Anthony Sperduti and I get to connect with consumers in so many different ways. The process is different for every client that we work with, but we always try to balance the beauty of design with the practicalities of what consumers want. When we started with Warby Parker and Harry’s, they were both direct-to-consumer models, which is great for your margins and distribution, but doesn’t allow people to touch or feel. We helped them both create made-to-measure retail spaces that work for their customer’s specific needs.”
Semaine: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
Andy: “For years I’ve wanted to do a permanent space titled Indoors. The idea is that it would be a completely transparent media company with a curatorial board and brands could take over the space in any way. It would be a merging of two worlds—somewhere between shopping and an experience that’s tactile and fun. I’m also working on some ironic electronic cigarette ash trays.”
Semaine: And to both—what do you think is the best thing about pyjamas?
Kate: “That I can change into them as soon as 5.30pm hits. Even if friends come over at 5.45pm, I’ll greet them in pyjamas.”
Andy: “That they can be worn anywhere, anytime! Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hockney used to paint in them and Plimpton used to walk around in boxers with a newspaper under his arm. All of the greats have worn pyjamas.”
To that end—slip into something more comfortable and prepare to enter Kate and Andy’s colorful, magical, and truly authentic Semaine.
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.