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Kate Spade's Deborah Lloyd Talks Business Over Hot Cross Buns

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Introducing Racked National's newest feature, The Breakfast Club, wherein we convince all sorts of people in the fashion industry to eat breakfast with us and, totally beknownst to them, we plonk a tape recorder in the middle of the table while they eat.

Today's breakfast club victim is Deborah Lloyd, co-president and creative director of Kate Spade. Before joining Kate Spade two-and-a-half years ago, Lloyd spent six years as creative director at Banana Republic and six years, prior, working with Rose Marie Bravo at Burberry. Lloyd's career is the stuff that fashion students' dreams are made of. Here, she dishes on the who, what, where, when, and why—and she tells us where she was on 9/11 and how that change her life.

Deborah Lloyd: I came to America and worked for Banana Republic for six years, and before then I was at Burberry in London for six years. So, that's probably where I had my big break.

When I got to Burberry, I was really the outcast. It was just before Rose Marie Bravo arrived and they'd just do one-offs for everybody—[for example,] the French dealer wanted this horsey lining with these gold buttons. They really ran it like a small business. It was a very sleepy business—it was for the women who came back from the country who were 60, 65, and would buy their skirt and their raincoat. Everything was in larger sizes, none of the fashion people were interested.

I remember sitting there thinking: What do I love about this brand? What do I think it stands for? I designed this little collection on my own, no one wanted to speak to me. I went up to the factory because it was still all made in the UK. And I designed a really tight-fitting little raincoat, a little kilt, a wool coat using Burberry check—putting burberry check on the outside, something that hadn't been done before.

So I had this 10-15 piece collection and that's when Rosemarie Bravo started, and she was touring the offices, which were not in the most salubrious area of London–they were in Hackney which, at the time, had the highest crime level in Europe, so you sort of have to drive there, and you could look out the window and watch the poor Japanese tourists outside the factory shop getting mugged. It was, like, you had to be careful around there. So she didn't know quite where she'd landed. She thought she was coming to this glamorous job in England and she was in the middle of nowhere in Hackney.

I'm a strong believer that things happen for a reason. For some reason, something was pulling me to Burberry, there was some connection, I knew something was going to happen. And I had real faith that I could do something there. And all these great things happened, but it was a real battle. There wasn't a creative director at the time—I was probably the only creative person there at the time. But it was an old-fashioned company, it was run by old members of the family there, you know, men in suits, women two years before had been sent home because they all wore trousers to work, could you imagine? That was how old-fashioned it was.

They had dining rooms, different dining rooms depending on what level you were. You could only sit in a certain place. Rose Marie Bravo went in one weekend and she knocked all the walls down and she was first in line with her tray. It just got to the point where there'd be a lady with a tea trolley at three o'clock, cup of tea, and only if you were a director were you allowed a chocolate biscuit, but if you weren't a director, you could have the non-chocolate biscuit. It was so class orientated. And Rose Marie was the fresh air that blew all that out the window.

The thing is, you're only as good as your team, and when you start in design, you start and you always have to be the one that shines and is different. But you have to remember, as you go up the levels, you have to be part of the team, and you have to bring the best people in around you.

You know, you look at something like Project Runway. They all shine when they have to do their own thing, but put them in a challenge when they're partnered with somebody, or partnered with a client. The ones that win are always the ones that find a way to work with the different people, with the partners, or with the clients, it becomes seamless and the product really does fit because of it. So it's all about bringing the right people on board and building the team. Rose Marie was brilliant at that. She sort of got rid of all that old thing. And she taught me so much, in management. Because you start as that one designer, but you can't do everything yourself. You have blind spots, where you're not good at things, so you bring the best in the business in to help you. And then, there should be a lot of fun and laughter at work. We spend so much time there, you better like all the people that you're working with, because you spend so much time with them.

I remember Rose Marie walking around, seeing the office and asking what I was doing, and I said, well, you know, the company is doing this, but this is what I believe the womenswear should look like. She looked me in the eye and said, "Deborah, you're the only person I've met today who knows what they're doing." Which was really lovely. And she's remained one of my biggest supporters every since. I think one of the reasons I have the job at Kate Spade is because she gave me an amazing reference—she's always supported me.

That was really nice, though. She allowed me to develop that range, and what I learned there was amazing. It was about focusing. And, there, it wasn't so much about who the customer was, it was what did the brand stand for, what did it mean to have such heritage in raincoats. So, that whole piece helped me enormously coming to Kate Spade where we do have a girl and it's so vibrant and obvious who she is. It's, as well, what's the heritage of the brand and we're bringing that to life—whether in handbags, in clothing—completely inventing the clothing range, they didn’t really do clothing before I got there and that was always my forte. And it’s been great bringing that to life, and I think it’s really helped the brand because suddenly, handbags always being classed as an accessory, but now when you dress a woman head-to-toe, people are like, "Ah, so that's what the Kate Spade girl is all about. And all the accessories will go on around. Clothing was a defining moment in the brand."

On leaving Burberry: I didn’t tell anybody I was thinking of leaving, but I'd sort of gotten to the point where I’d done the womenswear, I’d built the business up, it was a profitable business. Roberto Menichetti had been in and out as creative director but he worked from Italy so we hardly saw him. He was very talented, but it was extremely hard work, so I just got on and did my thing, so I was sort of working the engine when it came to making all the money. And then they were looking for a creative director and I think Christopher [Bailey] was just about to come in, and then I got called from Banana Republic and I snuck off to America, but I snuck off and said I was taking a week’s vacation. They didn’t know I was in America.

But I was here when September 11th happened, I was here, I was stuck here, so I had to ‘fess up. I was in the Mercer Hotel sitting there. There was Marc Jacobs there, there was Terry Richardson, there was Harrison Ford in the corner, it was this weird sort of thing. We walked out and we saw the towers fall from Canal Street, we were very very close. It’s like being part of a weird sort of movie. It was just crazy. I remember being stranded here and I had to 'fess up because I was here having signed my contract on September the 8th. September the 9th, Simon and I went to the top of the World Trade Center to look at the view. So two days before, we’d gone to the top, and we stood there looking at the view working out where we wanted to live in New York. I’ve still got the coin—you know those machines with the penny you push through? Hello from the top of the world? We did one of those.

We were just about to do one of those video messages from the top there to send to his brother, someone jumped in front of us. But those messages come in anywhere from 12 hours to 24 hours later. Had we sent that, it would have arrived just as the attack happened.

It was really scary-spooky. But being here in New York when those attacks happened and seeing how everybody coped, seeing the camaraderie, the organization because we were downtown, it was just spectacular to see. People say to me, well after being here for that, why did you want to come back. Those attacks can happen anywhere, and just seeing how people coped, and how good they were, and the community spirit. You felt part of it. So.

Banana Republic: I’d always respected Banana Republic because even though it's High Street, it always had the luxury element. You think about their home, their cashmere, and all the things they did, and I really respected that and I really liked that. But also, for me, it was an opportunity to grow my career, because it wasn't just looking after womenswear. Suddenly I'd get accessories and I'd get men's as well. So as creative director of the whole piece, the learning, having a big team, learning to manage the team, so you know, it was like how could you bring a bit of luxury, that DNA, everything I’d learned from working at Burberry. How could I bring that to a brand like Banana. And that’s what they were looking for.

It was six years, really hard work, such a huge job, it’s a $2 billion business. Looking after all those categories, really being hands-on with them. And after six years, I was sort of dying for something new, to touch categories and to get back to luxury a little bit. And I remember writing down what would be my perfect next step. And it was: concentrate on smaller categories, something where I could be more myself with the wit, the whimsy, the color, the prints, and sort of run the show and make more of the decisions myself as opposed to the split between San Francisco and new york, which is what was happening with Banana.

I remember reading in Women’s Wear Daily that Kate and Andy were leaving the company. I was like, ah, that’s interesting. It sort of clicked, but I didn’t think anything more of it. And I can’t remember who, but someone said to me, "Oh, that sounds interesting."

And then suddenly, my cell phone rang, and it never rings. And it’s Karen Harvey on the phone, and I was like, really cross, like, how’ve you got this number? I hate when headhunters have my private number. I like my number to stay private. And she knew, she was always trying to find me. I’d never pick up the phone and she was always trying to find me. She knew she had ten seconds to capture my imagination, so in ten seconds, she said, Kate Spade. It was the Ten Second Pitch.

I was like, wow, this could be really good and really intriguing, so I went straight down to the store to have a look. Again, like everybody else, a lot of people had passed over Kate Spade—they knew it, they liked it, they didn’t love it, It wasn’t necessarily on their shopping route. I had an idea of what they did and wasn’t sure. But I actually walked in and a lot of the artwork on the walls were from the same artists that I collected, the photographs were like the photos I liked. I actually ended up buying a pair of shoes which I loved. I was intrigued by it. So I got to know more, and it turned out to be the perfect job, and I’m so happy. It’s been a roller coaster of two and a half years, but really really exciting.
· Kate Spade [Official Site]
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