For Kate Spade New York, the past few years have been transformative. With the 2018 death of its founder and namesake, the impact of the pandemic, and now, two new heads of design, the beloved fashion brand is at a pivotal point in its long-standing reign.
Both new hires but industry heavyweights in their own rights, Jennifer Lyu (of Tory Burch, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Prada, and more) and Tom Mora (previously at Cole Haan, J.Crew, and Coach) are up to the challenge. Together, the duo is working to further one of the most quintessential and nostalgic millennial brands (with Lyu leading handbags and accessories and Mora overseeing ready-to-wear and lifestyle), while staying true to the joyous, whimsical design aesthetic that Kate Spade is known for.
At their spring 2023 presentation at New York Fashion Week, I chatted with Lyu and Mora about their plans for the company. Ahead, they share their vision for the future, their favorite pieces, and their first memories of the Kate Spade label.
Tell me about this new era of Kate Spade. What is your vision for evolving the brand?
Lyu: I really see Kate Spade products inspiring a customer in many different ways — whether it’s joyful novelty or functionality — to really support her throughout her day. That’s what I see in the future — always getting our customer [what] she craves from us and having that connection with her.
A lot of current fashion trends are revivals from the ’90s and 2000s. How are you balancing that demand while staying true to the Kate Spade brand?
Lyu: Ultimately, we want to put forth iconic products — and we want to see it from across the street and you don’t have to wonder, “Is it a Kate Spade bag?” But I love this convergence as well — I love looking back but also making it cool for a modern customer. It’s a delicate balance and a dance.
So for the Sam [Icon Leather Tote], there were things that I wanted to amplify but definitely some things that we wanted to innovate. For example, this really iconic, powerful logo that Kate and Andy designed, it was sewn on very simply, but I wanted to get precision — make sure it’s durable and showed in the best light.
Mora: Sure, the ’90s are really out there right now, so [for Kate Spade], it’s like a slimmer, side-profile heel and a beautiful sling bag. It’s bringing back a little bit more statement jewelry. You just get all those little [trends], and you put it together and you twist it a little bit, and it feels really not only relevant, but actually very on brand.
Kate Spade was one of the most iconic early 2000s brands. Have you drawn inspiration from any of the designs from back then?
Mora: Next year is our 30th anniversary, so we looked at all the eras of Kate Spade and realized that there’s so much modernity within those. Yes, there are references, but it really is a new vision.
Lyu: It’s not referential. For handbags, there’s an archive closet — it is so wild, I was so gobsmacked when I first came. There’s a really famous frog wicker bag or dog wicker bag. I might take hints of it, but [it’s] not referential.
Kate Spade is very much associated with Kate herself, so how are you balancing that with your own creative vision and taste?
Mora: It’s all really connected and it feels really cohesive. But what I think that we really take from them is the smart way they designed — very intelligent, never took themselves seriously, there was always a wink. It was an inside joke almost. I think we try to bring that sort of lightness, that sort of sense of community, that sort of sense of joy that they brought. It’s really a pleasure to work for a brand that never has really felt off at a moment throughout fashion, which is really hard to do.
Did either of you know Kate, or are you coming at this from a complete outsider perspective?
Mora: I did not know her personally, but I got to see her once at a hotel in Paris and I was like, “There she is!” I was at Atrium and I was in my little tiny room, and she was in some giant suite. She came out [with] this walk and I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s so fabulous.” It was pretty cool, but obviously we both followed the brand from the very beginning. It’s pretty amazing.
Kate Spade is a formative brand for a lot of people. What was your first experience with the brand?
Lyu: The Finn Bag.
Do you remember when that was, what that was like?
Lyu: Early — first job out of college and really saving up. There’s a power to buying retail. And I still remember that feeling and that experience of accomplishment. That’s what I remember.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.