After Kate Spade’s Spring 2019 show—the brand’s first ever—guests rushed across the pale pink runway to congratulate a slim Northern Irish woman with icy blue eyes and a sleek blonde bob. They did so in the mistaken belief that she was the new creative director, Nicola Glass, a Gucci and Michael Kors alum who had been tapped to head the Tapestry-owned label in November 2017. Only it wasn’t Glass. It was Tara Barwick, Glass’s twin, a London-based radiologist who had flown in for her sister’s debut. Well-wishers could be forgiven for the mix-up. Physically, the two are identical save for their coifs—Barwick has a classic chop, while Glass sports a cheeky buzzed undercut.“I felt like we were back at university in Edinburgh,” Barwick said the following day.“Now that we live on different continents, that doesn’t happen too much.”
In their teens and 20s, the sisters, now 46, relished the confusion, playing tricks on boyfriends, swapping high school classes, and generally perplexing people. Early in her medical career, Barwick recalls, she treated a urology patient who squirmed in her presence.“He was behaving really strangely, and after I examined him he told me I looked a lot like someone he knew,” she says. It turned out he was someone Nicola knew from art school.
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Another time Glass pretended to be Barwick during an interview for a summer job. “It was to be a Coca-Cola promotion girl,” Glass says. “I was home from college before Tara, and I’d gotten her the job, but there was a training day and she still wasn’t back. I was like,‘I don’t think I can train for you too!’”
But for the sisters, who come from a family of M.D.’s (their brother is also a radiologist, as was their late father), their relationship hasn’t been just high jinks and switcheroos. “Nicola is my best friend,” Barwick says.“She’s been my support system.” Adds Glass, “Tara always keeps me grounded and encourages me. My career path was quite winding, and there were times when I doubted that I was doing the right thing. I went through a phase when I would look at what Tara was doing and I would see all this worth because she’s saving people’s lives. I would ask what I was adding to the universe, but I’ve realized that what I do makes people happy. It brings them joy.”
There was plenty of joy in Glass’s first Kate Spade outing, from the surrealist twists (lips at the centre of abstract florals, a matchstick zipper pull) to the candy-coloured palette and playful flourishes, like off centre bows and subtle ruffles. These expressive, optimistic looks were rooted, Glass says, in the late founder’s vision.
Kate Spade, the trailblazing Midwesterner who launched her brand with accessible yet luxurious nylon handbags in 1993, left the company in 2007 and died tragically last June. At the spring show, a touching note placed on each guest’s seat paid tribute to her memory. “She left a little sparkle everywhere she went,” it read. The catwalk was dusted with glitter, a nod to Spade’s enduring shimmer, which was threaded throughout Glass’s collection. “My starting point was thinking about the brand’s core DNA,” says Glass. “I felt I’d honoured her because she was the one who inspired me.”
Glass succeeded not only in honouring Spade’s legacy but also in modernizing the brand, proposing fluid silhouettes, lots of patterns, and an understated sensuality via cutout details and liquid satin fabrics. She evolved the novelty the label is known for into something quieter and more nuanced, for instance, Glass’s Nicola Twistlock handbag features a heart-shaped lock that transforms into a spade when opened.