Commentary

Innovative Handbag Designer Kate Spade An Apparent Suicide

Kate Spade, an accessories editor at Mademoiselle turned influential designer, apparently hung herself by a scarf tied to a doorknob in her Manhattan bedroom yesterday. She was 55. 

“Kate Spade, the visionary founder of our brand, has passed. Our thoughts are with her family at this incredibly heartbreaking time. We honor all the beauty she brought into this world,” reads a statement on the Kate Spade New York homepage.

“Police responded at 10:10 a.m. after Spade was found by her housekeeper, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said. A suicide note was found at the scene, he said. Spade addressed her daughter in the note, according to two NYPD sources. Spade's husband also is referenced in the note, according to one of the sources,” Eric Levenson and Brynn Gingras report for CNN.

Spade “sold a controlling stake in her namesake brand 19 years ago, cut ties with it in 2007 and took time off from the fashion business to focus on raising her daughter. She returned to the industry in 2016, designing shoes and handbags under the brand name Frances Valentine, which aimed to put an updated spin on her breakthrough style,” Suzanne Kapner and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report for the Wall Street Journal

Her daughter’s name is Frances Beatrix.

“Our customer is someone who has a very personal sense of style and really is buying what they like. I think that’s who I’ve always spoken to, and I think that’s always who’s been attracted to my designs,” she says in an interview with her husband, Andy, posted on the Frances Valentine website.

“The most fun thing about what I do, I would say, is working with friends and family,” she says. 

“And what’s the most challenging part?” Andy asks. 

“I would say the most challenging part is working with friends and family,” she quickly responds.

Andy’s brother, the comedian David Spade, tweeted a recent photograph.

“Katy at my book signing. I love this pic of her. So pretty. I dont think everyone knew how f***ing funny she was...  Its a rough world out there people. Try to hang on,” he writes.

Spade was one of those designers whose aesthetic seems to evoke a slice of time for many people.

“Buying a Kate Spade handbag was a coming-of-age ritual for a generation of American women. The designer created an accessories empire that helped define the look of an era. The purses she made became a status symbol and a token of adulthood,” reads the lede to Jonah Engel Bromwich, Vanessa Friedman and Matthew Schneier’s story for the New York Times.

“My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart,” @ChelseaClinton tweeted.

“Spade became synonymous with the popular fashion brand that bore her name. Together with soon-to-be-husband Andy Spade, she founded the Kate Spade label in 1993 as a collection of handbags and accessories. It eventually became known for its clean lines, bold color palette and functional products, which now include stationery, beauty products and eyewear,” Sonia Rao and Elahe Izadi write for the Washington Post.

“She and Mr. Spade understood ‘how to reach an audience without alienating a consumer. Katie’s from Kansas City — a quintessential American look and values personified everything they did,”  Ira Silverberg, who asked the Spades to do a book while working at the literary agency Donadio & Olson, tells the NYT.

“The series of books they worked on together — little gift items issued in 2004 as guides to ‘Style,’ ‘Manners' and ‘Occasions' — were a hit, selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies.”

Katherine Noel Brosnahan was born in Kansas City on Dec. 24, 1962, graduated from St. Teresa's Academy and attended the University of Kansas before graduating from Arizona State University in 1985, according to Wikipedia. 

“Grieving deeply, Kate Spade's older sister told The [Kansas City] Star on Tuesday that her famous designer sister suffered debilitating mental illness for the last three or four years and was self-medicating with alcohol,” writes Eric Adler. 

“Spade’s apparent suicide ‘was not unexpected by me,’ Reta Saffo, Spade's older sister by two years, told The Star by email. … Family members struggled mightily to help Spade but to little avail, she said. ‘Sometimes you simply cannot SAVE people from themselves!’ [Reta] wrote. Spade seemed concerned how hospitalization might harm the image of the ‘happy-go-lucky’ Kate Spade brand, she said.”

Adler’s story, as do several, ends with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255.

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