He is one of the great underknown geniuses of Western civilization. He’s been a copywriter, a creative director, a fashion mogul, an activist, an art patron, a publisher, a consultant, a gallerist, and an artist in his own right. Along with his wife, Kate, he created the Kate Spade brand, then he did an amazing men’s sideline, Jack Spade. When he and Kate sold the business, Andy Spade stepped back—for about a minute. Since then, he has done some wild and crazy advertising for clients such as The Village Voice, invented a new retail concept, The J.Crew Liquor Store, opened an art venue, Half Gallery, and now has created the next step, Partners & Spade, a sort of combo ad agency, creative consultancy, and art gallery boutique in a storefront on Great Jones Street in Manhattan’s NoHo. When I visited, there were birds living in the window and a sign that says they sell guns. (The birds are now gone. The sign was moved inside after a police visit.) They sell art and books and strange collections. Where else can you buy objects bearing the Lehman Brothers logo, including mugs, golf balls, ear-warmers, a beer cozy, a rain poncho, and an instant onesie? Now Andy is talking about opening a combination coffee shop and bicycle repair shop. He’s an inspiration and one of my favorite people on this or any planet. We had our typical NoHo morning—talking over coffee at Gemma, the restaurant at Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson’s Bowery Hotel, then strolling down Great Jones to Partners & Spade.
GLENN O’BRIEN: So what’s the idea behind Partners & Spade?
ANDY SPADE: Well . . .
O’BRIEN: No, first of all, why isn’t it Spade & Partners?
SPADE: It’s Partners & Spade because it’s always something like Spade & Partners . . .
O’BRIEN: Or Russ & Daughters.
SPADE: Russ & Daughters . . . Exactly. Obedient Sons. I think the real reason is that it puts more pressure on the partners. [O’Brien laughs] They don’t really exist. But if anything goes awry, my name’s behind them, and everybody knows that the person with the biggest ego puts their name first. So if mine’s second, and we have a bad moment, I’ll blame it on these partners, who are really just made up of everyone with whom we collaborate. So the idea of it was that my actual partner, Anthony Sperduti, and I put it together, but we liked it being a completely collaborative business, where, rather than having a big staff of employees, we have a portfolio of people we know who can work on different projects. So half of the space is a studio that does work for clients like J.Crew and The Village Voice and Indigo Books in Canada, and the other half of the space we use, actually, to just do collaborations with different people. A lot of my friends don’t see themselves as artists, but they either collect something or they make something that nobody has ever seen before. So it’s like everybody in a band who kind of has a side project that they want to pursue. For us, this is a side project. Mike Mills [the artist and film director] wanted to do a fluxus piece, not a film right now. He had this idea about 1971, when he was 5, so we said, “You can do it here.” It’s more creative for the collaborators because the gallery isn’t requiring them to do paintings that are $5,000. We can justify the space by doing our studio work.
O’BRIEN: Some of these things you’re exhibiting are, well, unusual.
SPADE: There are a lot of things that you see in the world . . . We have a collection of gloves that have been run over by trucks that a friend named JP Williams collects. They are really beautiful. They look like sculpture. And he has a hundred pictures of them—we’re making a book out of them. It’s all that kind of ephemera, things that exist that no one really looks at unless it’s put to them in a certain way. A friend of yours has, I think, a huge collection of sock monkeys. I’d love to show those. When I go to people’s homes and I see the little things they’re obsessed with, I wonder why no one has ever exhibited them. This is a place for that, and even if it’s just a show, people will come and get inspired. We won’t make any money, but if people get inspired then they’ll come back again and possibly, hopefully, buy something someday.
O’BRIEN: How much of the stuff here is for sale?
SPADE: Ninety percent of it.
SPADE: Yeah, 90 percent. But some of it is prohibitively expensive—this beautiful collection of nature books is really expensive. So we don’t expect to sell it, especially in these times. We’re making a bag right now for the place. One side says, Everything must go, because it feels to me, personally, that everything must go.
SPADE: [laughs] It’s like the complete population is wearing that kind of message on their faces. Maybe not on their bags, but on their faces.
O’BRIEN: I did a sale ad for Barneys once that said, Everything might go.
SPADE: [laughs] I love that.
O’BRIEN: Is there any variation on lost our lease?
SPADE: Yeah, might lose our lease. When we opened the J.Crew Liquor Store, we actually covered the windows with paper cloth, and it said, A guy walks into a bar and orders a madras. He walks out with a pair of trousers. That was before the store opened, so everyone in the neighborhood was like, “Wow, what is that? What’s it gonna be?” We had a lot of ideas that never went anywhere. We wanted to sell old mattresses for a while. We would pull them off the street. I thought it would look really great. People could stay and sleep for a few days, if necessary. Is that a Liquor Store sweater you’re wearing?
O’BRIEN: No, my mother-in-law gave me this for Christmas.
SPADE: Did she really? It’s a great color. I need to get a green V-neck. I think I’ll go change later today.O’BRIEN: Whose idea was the Liquor Store?
SPADE: It was our idea. Mickey Drexler met with us and was asking about what to do with the men’s market, how to make men’s more relevant, and the thought was: Do you go and buy a billboard or do a lot of advertising, or just do a stand-alone men’s shop? And I knew the Liquor Store. I frequented the Liquor Store many years ago when I lived in Tribeca.
O’BRIEN: You actually bought liquor there?
SPADE: I actually drank liquor there. [both laugh] I would have bought the Liquor Store, but the woman who lives above it, her grandfather had it as a liquor store; then they kept the sign and it became a bar, which was called the Liquor Store. We were looking at that space ourselves to do something with. So our suggestion to Mickey and J.Crew was, let’s just make this a really great special men’s store that will actually show the world what you do with men’s. It’s usually combined with the women’s store, in the back or downstairs. So then we buy exclusive products for that store so you don’t have everything in it, edit it really, really well, keep the bar, keep the name. You know, let’s hire great people who understand what it’s about and make it a really special men’s store. At the time, they weren’t being mentioned in the same conversation as Thom Browne or Rogan or Rag & Bone or whoever. And now I think people have been able to see J.Crew men’s in a completely different way.
SPADE: I don’t like walking through the women’s department on Prince Street and going through to the men’s shop. I like the experience of an intimate space, and I like that it’s more seductive, the staff is more personal. We took the dressing room and made it into an exhibition space. I tried to make it into a place where guys want to spend time. We had the Strand do a little book shop inside it with the Strand brand on it. Most people know that Ralph Lauren buys the Strand books, but he doesn’t put their name on it because everyone wants to think it’s their own idea, which it isn’t. And now we’re doing bags with the Strand and J.Crew. We did ties with them. So we’ve had these strategic alliances with people who we thought would show that they’re interested in things beyond making a pair of khaki pants.
O’BRIEN: Way beyond.
SPADE: So that was the idea behind the shop. We built it out, we designed it with their in-store team, and we worked together on creating this store that would really be a beacon for what their men’s stands for.
O’BRIEN: Where did you get the idea for the Black Watch raincoat?
SPADE: Uh . . . I think it was you. [O’Brien laughs] That was yours. I didn’t even do that one. I think someone else saw you on the street.
O’BRIEN: You’re as bad as Eric Goode, who stole my upholstery for the Maritime Hotel.
SPADE: I am? No. I haven’t originated anything. I’m always looking around to see if I can combine two other ideas and make them into something new. I didn’t do the clothing in the store. But they brought in brands like Alden, which they don’t carry in other stores . . .
SPADE: We helped give them a list of different things to do, but they did most of the clothing merchandising, and we just worked as consultants, as sort of creative directors on that project. And then we did a men’s catalog and some other products for them, but, you know, it’s the ties with the Strand and the Detail Preservation Society, and those kinds of things . . .
O’BRIEN: What is the Detail Preservation Society?
SPADE: So we founded a society titled the Detail Preservation Society, and we have a blog that you look to if you want to find who the best bicycle maker is, or . . .
O’BRIEN: Really? That’s great.
SPADE: Or whatever you’re looking for. Everybody loved it, because we would call friends who do really great things—like Vogel, the cobbler on Howard Street. We’re just really into it. So Mickey was a founder, I was a founder, and a few others.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, yeah.
SPADE: But that was the idea that we were working toward: “If you really care about details, demonstrate it,” and do it outside of your business. I know you do. I’ve heard the things you say to people: “Why’s that sweater pilling?”
O’BRIEN: Gina [Nanni, O’Brien’s wife] got a pill shaver that’s in the shape of a penguin. It’s really fantastic. She was shaving an expensive sweater with it last night.
SPADE: Katie has one of those, too. Hers isn’t a penguin; I think hers is a porcupine. [laughs] They’re similar, but one costs less because it doesn’t have the spikes.
O’BRIEN: When you were doing Kate Spade and Jack Spade, you had a little ad agency on the side? What was that called?
SPADE: I was doing that with Julia Leach, so I think it was called Spade & Leach, or Leach & Spade . . . O’BRIEN: I worked with you on an airline campaign . . .
SPADE: Yeah. We didn’t really have a name for what we did. We just did it as a studio on the side and had a separate LLC. We always loved working on different things. The airline Song actually approached us to do uniforms, then they ultimately asked if we would do the advertising for it. Now, of course, the airline is defunct, but it was a great project.
O’BRIEN: The ads were good. I never flew on it.
SPADE: We did some good ads, we did some good things inside the plane, and we had a great experience. We take on little projects here and there for clients like Method laundry detergent. We did packaging design for Method out of San Francisco, which is kind of a neat company; the guy who runs it is a former advertising guy—an entrepreneur. For The Village Voice, we did billboards like Where Have All the Junkies Gone? and Welcome to McHattan. [laughs] And we did a lot of online ads for them with Casey and Van Neistat, kind of viral stuff. We did the Neistat’s TV show with Jack Spade during those days. Jack Spade was doing a lot of outside projects because, as Kate said, “You only make bags so you can do all the other things.” [laughs] Yeah, I love the bags. You know, you can’t be creative unless you’re solvent.
O’BRIEN: Tell me about it.
SPADE: I mean, you can be creative, but you can’t really make it into what you want it to be unless you have some income. So I mow the lawn and then I can go out and buy a drum set. Some of our friends don’t realize that it’s good to have something rolling in while you’re trying to be doing more. The short films we did were all kind of based on the business doing well. If we didn’t do so well, the films got shorter and shorter. I’m sorry that Eric Goode didn’t come over. I haven’t been able to get him over. He had an idea to do something with his turtles.
O’BRIEN: Well, he’s got the turtle resources. He should have a turtle shop—Turtles & Goode.
SPADE: He saw the birds in our window and said “Well, can the turtles follow?” I said, “Sure, I just need someone to care for them.” We’ve been getting a lot of negative comments on the blogs about the birds in the window, so we went to the New York Bird Club and they sanctioned it and wrote to PETA. The window is heated and we talk to the birds and the birds are fine with it. And so the blogs have slowed down on the negative.
O’BRIEN: They thought you were hurting the birds?
SPADE: Yeah, they thought we were mistreating the birds. They’re basically in an aviary that was designed by a person who works at Birdland. Not the jazz club. [O’Brien laughs] He comes in every day and checks on the birds—checks the temperature, has a little conversation with them, makes sure everything’s okay, feeds them, changes their papers. So we have a sign in the window that says, These birds are being treated really well. We sing to them . . . But there are people who look and see the store window and say that we shouldn’t use birds for commerce. But it’s not like we’re using them to sell feathered hats or anything.
O’BRIEN: You’re really on one of the best blocks in the city. I love Great Jones Street. The fact that the tire shop is still here is amazing.
SPADE: I asked them if I could have those signs.
SPADE: The really worn one with the Volkswagen logo and the one with the Mercedes logo, because we’re doing bags that are painted just like they are.
O’BRIEN: Those are really nice signs.
SPADE: Wouldn’t that be a nice little bag to have?
SPADE: That’s the YSL pop-up shop right here.
O’BRIEN: Oh. That building was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s studio. And then it was Eric Goode’s. And then it was a Japanese restaurant . . . Gee, I think the birds look really happy, actually. I wish I looked that happy. And I like the sign on the door that says: guns sold here.
SPADE: Yeah. You know, we decided to fight back with the people on the blogs, so we put that up. . . [laughs] Just to piss them off . [They enter the store.]
O’BRIEN: Where are the guns? Oh, they’re pictures of very nice guns. These are $175?
SPADE: [laughs] We got this gun inventory—photos of evidence, or pieces left over from forensics. We have 50 of them . . . They’re actually very nice-looking, if you’re a gun collector. You don’t want to have a handgun in the house if you go crazy.O’BRIEN: What are these [framed cloth-covered books]?
SPADE: This is something we made. I’ve always loved cloth-covered books. And I’ve always wanted to frame them. There was once a show called “An Argument for Looking at Books Instead of Reading Them,” remember? They’re almost like Rothko paintings in a way, so we just started putting them in frames and putting them together as objects. [pauses] These are . . . Marika Thunder Nuss, Rita Ackermann’s daughter, does these T-shirts, and A-Ron manufactures them. I thought they were really good . . . The two-headed snowman. [pauses] You’ve seen our booze cruise, right [a sailing ship model with tiny partying figures on it]?
SPADE: These are some new books of ours that I haven’t shown you yet. Have you seen Brokers with Hands on Their Faces?
O’BRIEN: No. That’s as good as Air Conditioner Graffiti or Medical Personnel Smoking.
SPADE: [laughs] I told ya . . .
O’BRIEN: That’s really good.
SPADE: That would be a great fashion story to do, you know, brokers with hands on their faces, in really great clothes. These are our shopping bags. We had Jason Polan come in for three days and basically draw on everything in the store. So anything you buy in the store comes with an original drawing of his with the item on it, whether it’s a Franz Kafka Amerika book . . .
O’BRIEN: Oh, those bags are all hand-drawn?
SPADE: They are all hand-drawn. These are all originals.
SPADE: He’s the guy who sat in MoMA and literally drew everything in the Museum of Modern Art and did a book on it. This we found on the street, and people keep asking what it is, and we have no idea. There’s no point to it. These are the back-dated confidence trophies which say: Everybody wants to have the confidence of a winner. Yet, unfortunately for some, it’s not in the cards. So, we’ll back-date one for you. It’ll make you feel better. [pauses] Maira Kalman took this area to do what she does . . . These are little vintagecar stickers that I love. There’s one that says, Yes she can! Obama stole that, obviously.
Check out the official Web site for Partners & Spade.