The business bit of Partners & Spade, though, is not all of this stuff. The business bit is branding, and current clients include the Swanson winery in California; Owl, which is AOL’s answer to Wikipedia; Target; and Hudson’s Bay Co., the oldest company in Canada, which is mostly famous for its ivory woolen blanket with colored stripes.
For the Swansons, Spade and Sperduti prescribed illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme, a mid-priced bottle of red whose label reads THANK YOU, which they think makes a perfect hostess gift. It’s just a label: a bit of white paper printed with a simple black font (and two blank lines to pencil in to and from). But buying it suggests that one has been invited to a dinner party by people who don’t take themselves so seriously that they drink only important wine. It’s a pretty signature Spade touch: The style is classic, its placement slightly unusual. It’s twee, yes, but it acknowledges the obvious: Downtown folk often like a certain kind of just-barely-ironized twee, the way other people might like their cards to come with Hallmark messages.
For Owl, Spade and Sperduti commissioned artist Geoff McFetridge to come up with a logo. The result is a shaky line drawing of a giant head balanced on two scrawny little chicken feet. It’s a completely low-tech approach to something big and modern, and suddenly the whole thing has a sense of humor, which Wikipedia really doesn’t. Sperduti smiles at it. “I can’t believe they went for it,” he admits. On the stereo system are old love songs sung in foreign languages.
“I didn’t want to have a huge staff to manage people,” Spade says, “I wanted to have more of a collective. We know a lot of people; we bring them in when it makes sense.”
The Spades don’t talk about Kate and Jack Spade now, about what they think of the new company’s attempts to sustain their state of mind. “I haven’t even been into a Kate Spade shop since we left,” admits Kate one drizzly afternoon at the Oak Room. She’s just picked up an Eloise tea set for Bea’s birthday (not that she would be happy if her daughter adopted the character’s nasty brand of sass), as well as a bit of makeup at Bergdorf Goodman across the street. When the salesgirl saw her credit card, she began to gush. “I never know if I should tell people that it’s not me anymore,” Kate says about the Kate Spade brand. “I only do if they start really getting into it.” Her dark hair is in her signature beehive, and she’s wearing her signature black cigarette pants. Kate laughs a lot, and she is generous with her favorite word, which is “darling” and which she uses as an adjective. Since selling the company, she hasn’t felt even the slightest urge to go back to work. She’s been pretty much full-time taking care of Bea—they ice-skate together at Wollman rink, they invite friends over for music class, and when Kate makes her a sandwich, she cuts it into the shape of a heart. “The other mothers are like, ‘Okay, whatever,’ ” she says, laughing. “They think I’m insane. But I want to be able to do this while I can. When she’s like, ‘Mom, get away from me!’ then I’ll think about what else I want to do, but I’m incredibly glad I can do this now.”
The family lives on Park Avenue, smack in the middle of the Upper East Side. Their apartment is big enough for the three of them, but it is not enormous. It is covered floor to ceiling in framed artwork, all of it jammed together; there is no hierarchy in its display. “Before I came to New York,” she says, “I only had a few pictures of the city in my mind. And you know That Girl? Marlo Thomas jumping with her hat? I always loved that, and I wondered what that double street she crosses is. And it’s Park Avenue! And that’s what I can see out my window.”
“Not,” she is quick to point out, “that we have some important view.”
The Spades took Bea to Disneyland for the first time at the end of January. A few days after they got home, Andy had a party at Partners & Spade to celebrate the release of the first two of six books of photographs he had taken with his iPhone. The books were tied to the bottoms of clusters of balloons and hanging in midair. Everywhere there were friends, collaborators, admirers: Here is Anthony Sperduti, who estimates he’s in his sixteenth year of his Spade collaboration, and there is Suzanne Martine, who was the first person to hire Kate at Mademoiselle, and little Bea, wearing red leather Mary Janes over navy-blue tights and a great big bow in her side-parted hair. Towering over it all is Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in a shapeless black coat.
In the back of the room is Andy, drinking a plastic cup of Partners & Spade wine. He’s moved by the presence of so many old friends and reflecting on how he and Kate have been together 25 years, a long time by anyone’s measure.
“You know,” he says, “I was just thinking about this time that Katie defended me. It was so hard working together, it was so exhausting. And then one day we were in this meeting with the Neiman Marcus execs who owned the majority of our company, and someone had a copy of a magazine that had a write-up of Paperboys, which was the first film I produced at Jack Spade. He pushed it across the table and said, “Is this what you’re spending money on?” I couldn’t even talk. I was totally freaked out. And then Katie just totally went to the mat for me. She was like, ‘This is what makes us relevant.’ ” He flushes pink at the memory.
Martine smiles. “You made it out!” she says. “Alive!”
“I see all these people who just keep going and going and going, and I just feel like, ‘Hey! You made it!’ ” says Andy. “But they get up every day and just keep going. You love the game, but the game for us? We just wanted to be in fourth place. We just wanted a good little company.”