An Interview: Andy Spade

"I think the myth in marketing is that consistency is the answer"  --Andy Spade

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Michael Williams, the force behind one of my new favorite blogs, A Continuous Lean, has recently collaborated with David Coggins to create the series, At the Bar.  At the Bar features interviews with people that have a stake in the design world.  His most recent interview features Andy Spade, one of my favorite creatives.  There is a practicality in the way that Andy Spade sees the world that I admire and appreciate.  We need more people that are as thoughtful about their impact and contribution as this man is.   Enjoy!

Andy Spade’s arc of success is well-documented and yet it remains a cause for satisfaction. The simple, utilitarian design exemplified by Jack Spade seems straightforward, but like a good bistro or garage band, the key is the execution. It turns out that’s not so easy after all. Jack Spade also worked because it was at home in any neighborhood, dressed up or down. And yet it never took itself so seriously it couldn’t release a frog dissection kit.  The case of Andy Spade is a reminder that just because something feels inevitable doesn’t mean it isn’t visionary.

We met at Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.

David Coggins: You live up here by Bemelman’s?

Andy Spade: Right, just around the corner.

DC: And you’re drinking a Vodka Southside.

AS: Right.  It’s a southern summer drink with vodka, simple syrup, a little lime juice and soda water.  Usually it’s made with gin.  That’s my favorite light drink.  This is what I order in a bar, at home we drink wine.  We spend our summers in California, so we drink a lot of wine, mostly red.  I love this Alexis cabernet is by the Swanson family, who are friends of ours.

DC: This is a great bar to have down the street.

AS: When my wife and I first moved to New York it was our treat to come up here and listen to music.  I’d lived downtown my whole time in New York.  When I moved up here 10 years ago people said, ‘You’re selling out.’  I said ‘New York’s a mile long, if you go up 50 blocks you haven’t changed your entire life.’  I want to have a tree on my block.  Andy Warhol lived on the Upper East Side, Woody Allen lives up here.

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DC: You’re associated with Greene Street and Warren Street.

AS: Now Great Jones.  I love good New York City streets.  We started out on Renwick Street and then to Prince and then to Crosby—this is all in the 80’s and early 90’s.  Then we moved to Warren Street.  Our building, like a lot of buildings in Tribeca, was sold.

DC: Were those raw spaces?

AS: Totally raw.  We had a top floor and the roof.  And a lot of degenerates sleeping in the hall.  Then finally my wife said ‘You’ve dragged me around downtown for 15 years, it’s my turn.’  So we found this cool old place up here.

DC: Partners & Spade does a lot of different projects—it’s everything under one roof.

AS: There are two parts to it: there’s the storefront part which we wanted because we loved the idea of being on street level and being in touch with the city.  We wanted to have a space that allowed us to put together all the things we love: advertising, art, design, films, writing, objects. And the back of the space is the studio—all we need is two turntables and a microphone.  We can work the Bowery Hotel if we need more room.  We’re open by appointment or if you knock really loudly.  And I like putting together shows and giving people a chance to show their work.

DC: It seems like you’re attracted to objects that have a some function that isn’t necessarily related to art—something designed with a primary purpose that still looks great.

AS: Exactly.  So much depends on the context and if something is presented in the right way.  The first person we hired at Jack Spade was Mike Abelson who now owns Postal Co.  He came out of Art Center in LA and he studied fine art and industrial design.  I was introduced by to him by my friend James Spindler who I knew from advertising.  He was offered a job designing cars, I said why don’t we create this thing together—he’s like a scientist.  He looks at bridges and how they’re supported when he’s designing a bag.  I wanted him to provide the technical expertise.  And the challenge was just to make a great bag.

You can read the interview in its entirety here