Remember The Ladies Essay

A Kate Spade was a splurge, but unlike so many others of that era (the Fendi baguette, a box of Blahniks) it wasn’t a wholly unattainable one — and for so many women who came of age when we did, it was a special hallmark of being able to own a tiny piece of luxury entirely for ourselves, because we wanted to, because we could. Jessica’s was a classic Kate Spade box bag, raspberry and matte, maybe flannel, which she bought because an older and more glamorous friend — also sadly gone before her time — convinced her it would be a wise investment.

(It was, certainly more than the leather pants she also recommended.) Heather’s was a petite, single-strap over-the-shoulder style, soft and almost sateen, in a smoky medium blue with aspirations of being periwinkle.

So when Jeanne shared her story with me, I was surprised.

She was actually born and raised in Danville, Illinois, coming to live in the South after she married Jim, a small-town Georgia boy.

She could be counted on to be kind, thoughtful, and genuinely interested in you.

And to my delight, beneath her calm and reserved manner lurked a wicked wit that would leap out unexpectedly and send me into fits of laughter.We, of course, never knew her as the many other things she was — a businesswoman, a journalist, a mother to Frances and aunt to actress Rachel Brosnahan, a wife to Andy — but, like so many other women, we carry in our hearts the indelible image of that corner of designer sunshine and what it meant to us.There was something profoundly formative about being able to call one of her purses your own.It was gratifying to possess an item that also was its own perfect adjective.No one ever says, “Hang on, let me grab my Bag I Stole From My Sister’s Closet Five Years Ago,” but “I left my lipstick in my Kate Spade” makes perfect natural sense — a satisfying sentence to utter, something that also says, “Hello, I am an adult woman with a real professional purse.” We both recall unwrapping our bag from the store’s protective tissue and feeling, finally, ever so mature and self-possessed.The love affair, like so many, started at Bloomingdale’s.It was the early aughts, and we were in our early 20s.This afternoon, the company website took down its splashy pictures and prompts for e-mail discounts, replacing them with a somber black page that calls her “the visionary founder of our brand” and notes, “We honor all the beauty she brought into this world.” Her influence is still widely felt, and not just in our memories of the early years of the millenium.The brand’s punny, sunny aesthetic grew on the foundation Spade laid and reinforced the notion that high fashion need not be high drama, nor high misery; that those of us who wanted to look like colorful quirky prepsters were not as sartorially alone as we might have felt emerging from the era of grunge; that it was not a sin to opt for a small wicker bag shaped like a dog if we wanted one; that clothing could have a sense of humor; that “cheerful” could, in fact, be a reasonable personal style.They made all of our young, hopeful smiles a little wider, our spines a little straighter, our steps a little springier.We’d earned our way into having them, and we were proud.

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