On the Spot: Andy Spade

The president and creative director of Kate Spade, Andy Spade, 40, began his entrepreneurial career while still at Arizona State University when he co-founded an ad agency. He moved to New York to work as a copywriter at Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt and spent 11 years as a creative director, doing time at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA\Chiat\Day. Spade, whose slight build and goofy smile recall his brother, actor David, helped launch the Spade accessories line nine years ago with wife Kate. He now leads its 10-person in-house creative team.

Q: Who had the biggest influence on your career?
A: Tom McElligott. He brought writing back to advertising. He put words and pictures on a collision course—without words, the pictures made no sense; without pictures, the words made no sense.

Q: How does fashion advertising differ from what you did previously?
A:It’s more visceral. There’s no logic to it. Fashion oftentimes isn’t about a product benefit, it’s about a point of view, a specific sense of style. It can be about a sense of humor people identify with.

Q: Does that make it easier or harder to do your job?
A:I find it more difficult. And people in fashion are so critical. If you’re not relevant, they’ll tell you right away. It’s more fun, I have to say, because it’s not so black and white.

Q: What’s your dream assignment?
A:What I’ve been doing here, and what I’d like to do again and again: to create a brand from scratch. To name it, to design it, to control all elements of it.

Q: What was your most recent creative coup?
A:The Honesty book we did for Jack Spade. We took 100 wallets and created four characters. We filled the wallets up in a real way and dropped 25 off on the Upper East Side, 25 on the Upper West Side, 25 on the Lower East Side, 25 on the Lower West Side. And we photographed as people found them to see who returned them, to see whether the Upper East Side is more honest than the Lower East Side. And we cross-referenced that with the family man vs. the playboy [characters] to see if people feel more guilty keeping the family man’s wallet, which, in fact, was true. The book is in the [Jack Spade] stores. At the same time, we put up fliers that said, “Lost Jack Spade wallet,” so that was kind of an outdoor ad.

Q: What was the worst business decision you’ve ever made?
A:Hiring the head of our warehouse without checking his references. He turned out to be in the Cuban mafia and had shipped drugs out of the last job he had. And he was practicing voodoo on the employees. I’m not kidding. We had to call federal people to come in while we told him to leave.

Q: What recent ad has made you think, “I wish I’d done that”?
A:The Nike ad with the rituals people go through to prepare for a race. I’m a runner, not a big one, but I understand that moment, I relate to it. To me, they expose the mental side of what you have to do to prepare for something. It’s so hard to capture that.

Q: You’ve worked on the client and the agency side. How does that alter your view of the ad industry?
A:[On the agency side,] I didn’t think enough about the clients’ needs. I just wanted to do kind of an interesting ad for myself a lot of times, I realize. On the client side, I didn’t realize how many brilliant people I worked with. Sometimes [advertising is] just about building sales, and sometimes it’s about awareness, and sometimes it’s about making it influential to people, and sometimes it’s about a sense of humor—I kind of understood that, but I now really appreciate it.

Q: What are the best and worst things about working for yourself?
A:You can control your destiny. The scary thing is you live by that. It falls on you. If it goes down, you’re going to take that responsibility.

Q: Do you have a motto?
A:When I was a skateboarder, we said, “Shut up and skate.” Don’t say it, demonstrate it. Just go out there and do it and don’t complain about it.

Q: You were a skateboarder?
A:As a kid. You know, we used to say, “Oh, the creative director doesn’t get it.” OK, then be the creative director, see how you do—it’s not an easy role. Or run a business. I now have more appreciation for people who run companies and for creative directors than I ever did as a creative. I realize how difficult all the decisions are. It’s easy to criticize. It’s very tough to do.