Kate Spade, 1962 – 2018

Designer Kate Spade inside her New York flagship store on May 28, 1996 in New York. Photo by Kyle Ericksen/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock (6908970a)

Born in Kansas City on December 24, 1962, Katherine Bresnahan, was attending college when she met her future husband Andy Spade (brother of SNL actor David Spade). The idea of opening a  handbag company came from a casual conversation the couple were having one evening in a Mexican restaurant about how she liked simple tote bags. The couple were yet to be married when they decided to use the name ‘Kate Spade’ for marketing the bags — Kate became the designer and Andy, the creative director.

From a humble start-up in their apartment in 1992, annual sales reached $1.5 million by 1995 when they opened their flagship store in New York. In 1996 the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave Spade the “America’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories” award. By 1998, the company had $27 million in sales and the couple had opened their first store in Japan. Kate Spade bags were the fashion ‘must-have’ of the day.

The couple sold controlling interest in the business to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999 but actively worked with the brand, which expanded into beauty products, eyeware, and even a fragrance. In 2006 the Spades sold the Kate Spade brand and within a year walked away from the company so Kate could devote her time to being a full time mother. In 2015 the Spades became partners in a new venture – a shoe and handbag brand called Frances Valentine.

Kate Spade died from suicide in her New York apartment on Tuesday, June 5.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Edgar C. Hyman – Echo Scarves

Alphabet print, mid 1970s

Alphabet print foulard, mid 1970s

After working for two veiling companies, Edgar C. Hyman started his own company in New York around the same time he married his wife Theresa in September, 1923. Inspired by his monogram, he called his company Echo, and produced print scarves, becoming a leading manufacturer of the accessory during its heyday (late 1920s – late 1970s). With stiff competition from other firms in the 1950s (Hermes, Vera…) the company shifted manufacturing off shore to keep costs down. Dorothy, Edgar and Theresa’s only child, joined the company along with her husband, Paul Roberts, in 1950. After her parents and husband died, ownership passed to Dorothy in 1978. With scarf sales shrinking, Dorothy diversified the company into clothing and belts, but soon dropped all but a profitable line of leather belts. The company also found success through licensing, starting with Ralph Lauren in 1986, adding Sarah Coventry in 1987.

Op Art print, late 1960s

Op Art print silk foulard, late 1960s

In 1993, Dorothy stepped away from the company, leaving the next generation in charge. Although private label and licensing agreements helped, the company needed to expand into new product lines to remain profitable. A men’s tie division had been added in 1992, but by the end of the decade men’s ties were also on the decline. In 1993 Echo entered into home products, producing bed and bath textiles, upholstery fabrics and coordinated wallcovering and fabric prints for various companies. In 1996 paper products were added, including stationery, photography albums, napkins, and giftwrap. In 1997, the company also began growing through acquisition when it acquired Schertz Umbrellas: Monsac Corp, a handbag company, was added in 2000.

Traditional paisley print silk chiffon, early 1960s

Paisley print silk chiffon, mid 1960s

Today, the Echo Design Group Inc. produces women’s scarves under the Echo name and through licensing agreements: the company also makes gloves, umbrellas, and ties, and home products manufactured under license. In its 93rd year of business, Echo is still privately owned and operated by descendants of the founder Edgar C. Hyman.

For more information about the company see this article.

Canadian Tiara that survived the Lusitania goes on the block…

Lady Marguerite wearing the tiara, 1920s

Lady Marguerite wearing the tiara, 1920s

In 1882, Hugh Allan, a Scottish immigrant to Montreal in the 1830s, died, leaving his business, the Allan Shipping Line, to his son Hugh Montagu Allan. ‘Montagu’ as he was known, grew the company into the largest privately owned shipping company in the world. In 1906 he was knighted by Edward VII, and in 1909 Sir Allan sold the Allan Shipping Line to Canadian Pacific. That same year he commissioned a tiara from Cartier for his wife Lady Marguerite. The Allan name lives on in the name of the Allan Cup for amateur ice hockey.

Sir Allan and Lady Marguerite had four children, and in 1915 their eldest daughter, 20-year-old Martha, left for England to serve with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (front line nursing). The rest of the family would follow but Sir Allan had to get paperwork in order first, so Lady Marguerite and her two other daughters, Anna 16 and Gwendolyn 15, went ahead, sailing on the Lusitania.

_72684109_lusitania_gettyOn 4 February 1915, Germany declared British waters a war zone and any allied ships would be at risk from attack by German U boats. On the day the Allans departed, 1 May 1915, the Imperial German Embassy of Washington reminded tourists of the European war, placing a warning next to a newspaper advert for the Lusitania’s return voyage. However, it was generally thought the Lusitania’s speed kept her safely out of reach from  German U boat torpedoes.

On the final day of the Lusitania’s voyage, and within sight of the Irish coast, at 2:10 pm, the Lusitania crossed in front of a German U boat that was low on fuel and preparing to return home. A single torpedo fired at the ship struck the starboard side and as she sped on at 18 knots, water was forced into the Lusitania’s hull, sinking the huge ship in 18 minutes with a loss of 1,200 lives. Lady Marguerite survived, but suffered a broken collarbone and hip; her two daughters perished. Lady Marguerite’s two maids also survived, one of whom had saved Lady Marguerite’s tiara from going down with the ship.

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Lady Marguerite’s tiara, made in 1909

Two years after the sinking, the Allans experienced more misfortune when their only son died on his first patrol with the Royal Navy Air Service in Belgium. Their surviving daughter, Martha, never married and died 15 years before Lady Marguerite herself died in 1957 at the age of 86. The tiara was left to an English cousin, and her granddaughter has now decided to sell the tiara at Sotheby’s, where it is expected to sell for around a half million dollars.

Added November 11: The tiara sold for $ 799,265.00 U.S. dollars,

Heavy Baggage

An interesting snippet I discovered yesterday from the Montreal Gazette, August 29, 1968:

“Women who carry heavy handbags sometimes suffer from unpleasant finger tingling… Dr. Ronald Barber, a diagnostic expert, told a group of physiotherapists heavy handbags can cause women to walk slightly off kilter. The result is pressure on certain nerve paths that causes the unpleasant sensation in the fingers… It was prevalent among women in Britain during the Second World War because they were forced to stand in queues for hours with heavy shopping bags to buy goods in short supply…”

Josephine Bonaparte’s engagement ring

d64b9afb-4eb2-4fb6-aaaa-6f7a37b73b60_481110_496244733745644_823198479_nThe diamond and sapphire engagement ring Napoleon Bonaparte gave to Joséphine will go up for auction March 24 at the Osenat auction house in Fontainebleau, France with an estimate of $20,000. The gold ring is set with teardrop-shaped gems, a diamond and sapphire, each approximately one carat in size.

Empress Joséphine was a 32 year old widow and mother of two when the 26 year old Napoleon wed her on March 9, 1796. The general was not yet the self-crowned emperor and did not have a lot of money at the time, which explains the ring’s ordinary style.

Added April 3: The ring sold for $948,000