Deborah Lloyd, Ace of Spades

by The Daily Front Row

(NEW YORK) How do you win at the lifestyle game? Deal in Deborah Lloyd, that’s how. Since 2007, Kate Spade New York’s chief creative officer has been hard at work adding her signature flair to a stunning array of products, from hats to homewares. Today, with 300 stores worldwide, and annual revenues of over $742 million, the multi-tasking Brit is at the top of her game. We stopped by her colorful Park Avenue office to find out how she plays.

How has the Kate Spade New York brand evolved since you came on board?
I inherited an amazing brand with amazing DNA. It just sort of needed to grow, really. I don’t think the DNA has changed immensely. Our goal is still colorful, bold, playful, clever, spirited, chic, optimistic, graphic, aspirational, and timeless. We’ve used it in so many different ways across so many more products than we did when we were just doing handbags.

The business has grown tremendously in a short amount of time. What’s been the toughest part about expanding so fast?
For me it’s really about keeping my hands on everything. I’m very hands-on, so nothing goes out without me seeing, and it’s just about having enough hours in the day to control everything. I’m a bit of a control freak, but it’s also keeping the quality up and the cleverness, and not selling out.

What’s a day in the life of Deborah Lloyd like?
The reason I love my job is that no day is ever the same. My life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Nothing ever happens in the right order, but I love it. In order to stay creative I can’t work 24 hours a day. I’m in at half past 8 a.m. and I’m leaving around 7 p.m., but I fiercely protect my weekends, because it’s my time to think. The best ideas don’t come when you’re sitting at a desk at the office. Every day is a new challenge, there’s amazing travel, and I get to meet amazing people.

What’s the best place you’ve traveled to recently?
Mexico City. We just opened our first store there. There was a massive thunderstorm and I had to host this big party for these 25 gorgeous Mexican girls, their boyfriends, and friends by candlelight. But it was absolutely beautiful. I love the people, I love the food, the architecture, the new museums, and the art. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

You’ve been doing more entry-level and also more high-end products. Why is that?
We call it building the shoulders of the brand, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to grow. You’re enticing somebody into the brand at the entry price with fun, easy, understandable handbags, cross-bodies, and things. But also it’s really important to build your high-end. We launched the Madison collection this year with the opening of our Madison Avenue flagship. The average apparel piece ranges from $350 for a basic top to upwards of $1,000. I’ve gotten the chance to really sort of take the handcuffs off and use beautiful raw materials and fabrics that I love.

We’re hearing a lot of buzz about Kate Spade Saturday. How’s that going?
We’ve achieved so much with that brand. I can’t believe we only launched in March of last year. It’s incredible all the stores we’ve opened all around the world. The press has loved it, but also this girl has found us and absolutely loves it, too. We need it to be really strong to stand out, because if you want to launch something it has to fill a gap and a girl has to love it. It has to be about her lifestyle. And who doesn’t think the best day of the week is Saturday?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
I try not to think about it so it doesn’t freak me out.

How do you de-stress?
All I need to do is walk through my front door in Brooklyn and I de-stress. I’ve got two crazy standard schnauzers, who are just so happy to see me, wagging their tails, and I have an amazing husband, who is a huge support. It just takes my mind off everything.

You’re also expanding in everything from fragrances to home products. Do you have a newfound fondness for any particular category?
I come from a Ready-to-Wear background and that’s where I start the season. It sets the mood. But I love working on the home collection. It’s so different for me, but I love it, whether it’s decorating this office, my home, or wherever. I love beautiful environments. It’s one of my hobbies. I’ve never employed a decorator. I’m actually designing and building our own house upstate at the moment.

What’s the most fun part of your job?
I love the beginning of the season when I’m coming up with the initial colors and fabrics and mood inspiration, and then my next favorite thing is when all the samples start coming out of the boxes and we start putting them together, and I see these things come to life. The next step is seeing it all come together for the show when it looks the best it possibly can on these gorgeous girls with the hair and makeup and there’s the vision. It’s like the three points: The samples come in, I get to see them first thing, and then we put it together with Brad [Goreski] for the fashion show.

How long have you been working with Brad?
For almost three years now. It’s a lot of fun. He knows my thoughts and he just adds his flair into it and lights it up. I love seeing the clothes through the lens that he puts on them, because it just looks totally different from where it started.

Did you ever have an original Kate Spade New York tote bag?
No, I grew up in the U.K. so that wasn’t until I came to America. My first introduction was when one of my bridesmaids married somebody who worked for Kate Spade New York. She used to have pieces from Kate Spade New York, and talk about it, so I sort of knew about the brand. I knew about the aesthetic, because her wedding was very Kate Spade New York, so that was my introduction. I always visited the store. It was a perfect secret source and I loved the voice of the brand and everything, so when the phone call came to see whether I’d be interested to work here I was like, ‘Yes! I love, love, love the brand!’

How different is it working here as opposed to your roles at Banana Republic and Burberry?
At Burberry and Banana I learned so much. They were sort of like my school for Kate Spade New York. At Burberry we worked so hard night and day, and I had some amazing mentors there, so nothing was going to phase me. Then I came to America and Banana was so big. It was learning to run a team. So I was bringing those two things together again here to this company that has amazing brand tenets but just needed to be refreshed, which was really exciting. I love the spirit of this place, and because I’m leading the design, what I love can filter through, whereas at the other places it was slightly different. Here, I feel I can be myself. My pink, girly, bow-loving self!

Why bows?
Before the bows, it maybe wasn’t as feminine. It’s about finding a balance with the bows, so you have the very graphic bow, which I feel is very Kate Spade New York, but also very me. That feminine side is something I brought to the brand.

You’re a big-time vintage collector. What’s your most prized piece?
An old lady in Paris who used to be a model for Chanel in the very early days gave me this amazing sequined jacket and skirt that she was given as payment. It’s this beautiful sort of leopard iridescent sequin thing, but it comes from the ’30s. It’s stunning and has the original label in it. There’s a real story to it. I once wanted to wear it, but’s just too beautiful. I keep it in its original box.

Is there any modern-day young celeb who you would say embodies the Kate Spade New York spirit?
I love Emma Stone. I think she dresses so well and she’s got a quirky personality, and she’s funny.

Who in your own personal life has served as a fashion inspiration for you?
My aunt! When I was growing up, she was this fabulous model who traveled the world, and she would always come back wearing the most exotic clothes and bring me crazy presents. My grandmother immigrated to Australia to work and teach in the outback at 60, and one of my earliest memories is waving goodbye to her on the train. She traveled all over the world, and every place she stopped she would send me a doll in an international costume. I think that between her and my aunt, that’s where my interest in fashion came from.

Kate Spade New York just turned 20. How do you see the brand evolving over the next two decades?
The sky’s the limit, really. It’s an open book waiting for us to write all the chapters. I think the possibilities are endless.

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