Spade is not the first person to mine the annals of the Wasp world for inspiration. One needn’t look further than Ralph Lauren to understand that consumers go bonkers when shown attractive people in cleverly updated versions of old-fashioned clothes. And he isn’t the only person to have worked this look to profitable effect in downtown Manhattan either (see: Alan, Steven).
A decade later, of course, it’s hard to see any of this as unique; Spade’s aesthetic has been knocked off all over the map, but Soho, circa 1999, was in the throes of the clunky heels, the color black, and the addition of spandex in places it really had no right to be.
And in the end there is something especially accessible—and enduring—about the Spade brand: It is friendly, and it is almost goofy, and, most important, it offers a way of being fashionable without looking absurd. Twenty years from now, you’re not going to look at pictures of yourself in a button-down and cords and wonder what you were thinking. And it manages to be preppy without the whiff of the restricted country club: It takes much more delight in the world than that. “It’s the world of Dobie Gillis,” says Andy’s friend Glenn O’Brien. “It’s just a more casual and user-friendly experience.” It’s preppy, yes, but it is definitely not Republican.
It’s possible that all this works because Andy Spade comes by it so naturally: The brand he built is an honest version of himself, of who he is and also of who he aspires to become. “I look back at pictures of all of us from college,” says Elyce Arons, “and there’s me in some goofball trendy outfit, and there’s Kate in the perfect navy peacoat, the perfect fisherman’s sweater. Kate and Andy have both always been exactly the same.” Arons laughs. “The thing is, back then I used to think that I was the fashionable one.”
The Spades are from the Midwest. They like to get together with their old friends and stay up late. They like things to be classic and they like the color Kelly green. They came to the city, but they didn’t set about erasing the people they were before they got here, and they still have that outsider’s endless thrill of how cool is this art gallery? How great is this weird smelly record store?
Kate likes to cut sandwiches for Bea in the shape of a heart. “The other mothers think I’m insane,” she says.
If anything, they’ve often worked on transporting city folk beyond the five boroughs—and not to Europe either. Tierney Gearon photographed the company’s second ad campaign, which featured a good-looking (but not scarily so) family in the yard of their big (but not huge) white clapboard house. “It was being in the backyard and throwing your kid up in the air, and the kid is wearing a Halloween costume,” Andy says. “I mean, what’s better than that? Being on a yacht is definitely not any better than that.”
“Someone once told me that if you ask a woman What is the favorite thing in your closet?, she’ll pull out her newest dress,” says Jenna Lyons. “If you ask a man, he’ll pull out some tattered old thing he’s had forever. That’s the big difference. And that’s what Andy gets.” Essentially, he understands that men are happy to have their shoes resoled again and again, and that they’d like to buy shoes that deserve it.
On a recent morning, Spade was sitting at one of the two long tables in the back of Partners & Spade, wearing his usual uniform of wide-wale corduroy pants, a gingham button-down shirt, and a tweedy blazer. Across from him, a skinny boy in skinny jeans was sifting through an enormous box of photographs of other people’s families. (Found photography has become a passion of Andy’s, and he buys crates of other people’s pictures at flea markets.) The boy was looking for interesting designs on the back of the prints, where the photographs had become unglued from their original albums, leaving abstract bits of construction paper and glue. Andy found these shapes unusual and thrilling, so when the assistant finds enough, Spade will pick his favorites, frame them, and hang them on a wall. (Customers can take one home for $150.) The photo-backs project is reminiscent of the clothing labels he flipped over and framed because he thought their threads looked “like Rothko.” They are also for sale at Partners & Spade, for $99, right below a tiny plastic banker figurine suspended from the ceiling of the shop by a golden parachute. “The last golden parachute!” Andy explains. There is also, in the shop, a giant drawer full of pistachio nuts, and a selection of customizable self-esteem trophies. Mounted near the entrance is a box of security cameras that Spade bought from a spy shop just because he found it hilarious. (The cameras are not hooked up, but maybe they should be: The store was robbed the other night.) There are more-serious pieces of art as well, oil paintings in heavy gilt frames over which René Ricard has painted the words of his various poems.