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The Spades’ New Bag

At the end of the day, they tallied it all up: 266 decisions, and it hadn’t been an unusually busy afternoon. Kate had recently given birth to their first child, an adorable brunette they’d named Bea. She was in her early forties and determined not to miss out on motherhood entirely. Andy’s interest in books and movies and contemporary art had begun to eclipse his passion for messenger bags and china patterns and a white-flower-based perfume. And working together wasn’t, let’s face it, the surest route to marital bliss. “I remember this one horrible fight over whether a pink was the right pink,” Andy says. “Ugh. And then it was important for everyone to think we were so happy all the time.” So they exercised their put option and Neiman Marcus acquired the remaining 44 percent of the company for $59 million and promptly sold the whole kit and caboodle to Liz Claiborne.

The friends—Kate, Andy, Elyce, and Pamela, plus spouses and kids—checked in to the Twin Dolphins Resort, which is on a sandy strip of beach near Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. “We were there for a week,” says Arons, “and we didn’t once talk about the sale.” The consensus was they were done.

“Someone said to me, what about your legacy?” Andy said a few weeks ago, a look of extreme incredulity on his round kewpie face, “and I said, what about my life?” He held up his hands at the obviousness of the thing. “You know,” he said, “there are a lot of interesting things going on in the world.”

But Andy didn’t retire, and a complete inventory of what he’s up to now is a quickly moving target. He’s working from a storefront gallery on Great Jones Street between Bowery and Lafayette called Partners & Spade, which sells a constantly changing collection of stuff that’s caught the eye of Andy or, as the name would suggest, one of his aesthetic partners in crime, of whom there are gobs. The main partner is Sperduti, but then there are all these clean-cut guys in their twenties and thirties, wearing reissued K-Swiss scuffs on their feet, and there are friends, like the artists Maira Kalman and René Ricard.

Spade is also writing some films and producing others. The production side mostly means facilitating the work of a bunch of 24-year-old guys (Kalman’s son among them) who call themselves Red Bucket Films. This year their films made it into Sundance and Cannes, and they even won some prizes. It also means producing a show for HBO from brothers Casey and Van Neistat. There are books, too—Spade has an imprint at HarperCollins that publishes photographs he’s snapped on his iPhone (sample topics: six months in the life of an airport-hotel marquee, helium balloons stuck in trees). If you drop by a party in his shop, you may notice that you’re being offered a nice glass of Partners & Spade red. “Oh, did I mention that I’m making wine?” says Andy. “I bought a patch of a vineyard in Napa.” There’s another gallery down the street called Half Gallery, in which Spade is a partner and where this spring he’ll curate a show by Lola Schnabel.

Partners & Spade is not a retail endeavor per se (no money was made, for example, last April 15, when they hired an accountant to sit in the window and give tax advice on a first-come, first-serve basis). It is instead a trip inside Spade’s peripatetic mind, and, therefore, a helpful place to begin understanding why so many men in this city have been wandering around in flannel shirts and Red Wing boots, taking their meals in restaurants with walls covered in a mishmash of antlers and art. Spade’s particular, nostalgic, classically American taste has been massively influential in the past ten years. When Andy first opened his Jack Spade shop, on Greene Street, in 1999, he announced himself by loading up a hundred canvas wallets with all sorts of stuff—vintage ticket stubs, old library cards, yearbook photos of plain-looking girls with flips on the ends of their auburn bobs—and sending them all around the city to various other tastemakers. He and designer Steven Sclaroff decorated the shop with a torn leather sofa held together by duct tape and twine. Alongside the waxed canvas messenger bags and plain leather totes were articles he’d clipped from old copies of the New York Times, antique globes, and a heavy metal lighter shaped like a dog that shot flames from its butt. It was like a dorm room from Hamilton College in 1980, the year the Preppy Handbook—with its carefully annotated line drawings of various prep habitats—was first published. Situating the bags among this well-curated detritus gave them a sort of class by association, elevating them to the exalted plane occupied by such familiar brands as Wayfarers and Chucks.