OF-THE-MOMENT THINGS MAKE ME very nervous," says handbag designer Kate Brosnahan Spade. If so, she'd better break out the Valium. Not only is she the winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent, but she has seen her creations become fashion benchmarks.

Combining bright colors with simple lines and unorthodox fabrics—orange nylon messenger bags, a pink Nova-suede bag shaped like a shaving kit—Spade's innovative carryalls, priced from $85 to $300, have adorned the well-toned arms of celebs such as Cindy Crawford, Mary Tyler Moore and Linda Evangelista. "I never bought anything more than huge trash bags for all my junk," says Sandra Bullock. "Then I walked into Kate's showroom and discovered I now have an obsession." Says Judy Collinson, a Barneys merchandising manager: "We always carried Kate Spade and always will."

A Kansas City, Mo., native, Spade, 33, majored in journalism and broadcasting at Arizona State University. That's where she met husband Andy, also 33, now an ad executive and her company's creative director. She moved in 1986 to Manhattan, where she went from being a temp assistant on a photo shoot at Mademoiselle to the magazine's accessories editor—and developed a yen to start a business of her own. In 1993 she did just that, making her debut with a six-style line that included a burlap tote made of real potato sacking. Since then, she, Andy and two other partners have built a $5 million business. Their outlets include Saks and Bloomingdale's, as well as a new shop not far from their downtown loft. Some of Spade's bestsellers are designs from her first collection. "If you can't keep wearing the things in our line," she says, "then we feel we made a mistake."