From humble beginnings in the Midwest to creating a vast accessories empire that put her in the closets of millions of women, Kate Spade was one of the most successful contemporary American designers of her generation. Tragically, we are forced to report that Spade was found in her Park Avenue apartment on Tuesday morning by her housekeeper, dead of an apparent suicide at the age of 55. She leaves behind a husband and thirteen-year-old daughter, as well as an enduring fashion legacy.
While she was the accessories editor of Mademoiselle magazine in the early 90s, Spade lamented the fact that she couldn’t find cute but sophisticated bags that were high-quality enough to be status symbols but whimsical enough to add levity to an outfit. Therefore, Kate Spade was born as a combination of her name and the last name of her future husband, Andy Spade. Andy was named a co-founder of the Kate Spade brand, as was Elyce Arons. Quickly, women flocked to her cheerful designs, and soon she opened a storefront in SoHo. From there, her brand grew and expanded to include ready-to-wear, jewelry, and other accessories. Within two years of opening her first store, Kate Spade was generating upwards of $27 million in annual revenue.
With the meteoric success of her brand, Spade and her partners opted to sell a majority stake in the business to Neiman Marcus for $34 million in 1999. They sold the remainder of the company in 2006 for $59 million. Liz Claiborne quickly acquired the company from Neiman Marcus and rebranded its own company as Kate Spade & Co.. Stepping down from her eponymous brand did not diminish Spade’s influence in the fashion industry. Instead, she continued to design and eventually launched a new brand called Frances Valentine, so named for her young daughter, Frances.
An outpouring of remembrance flooded social media after news of her death struck, with celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lucy Hale remembering the designer and her impact on their lives. Many used the opportunity to recommend reaching out for help in the case of mental crisis, offering the number to the U.S.’s National Suicide Prevention hotline.
Very saddened to hear about the passing of Kate Spade. Mental illness does not discriminate and can happen to anyone with any circumstances. I hope she has found peace ❤️
— Lucy Hale (@lucyhale) June 5, 2018
Kate Spade was more than a designer. She had a quirky visual language that captivated Bat Mitzvah girls and artists alike. She was also a staple of NYC who spread good will. My heart breaks for her family. Thank you, Kate, from one of the millions you made feel beautiful.
— 💎 Lena Dunham 💎 (@lenadunham) June 5, 2018
Kate Spade was an entrepreneurial and artistic force, and all of us know that already. But what we don’t tend to is what’s going on behind the scenes. There’s no shame in reaching out if you need it. You’re not alone, no matter how alone you may feel.
— Anne T. Donahue (@annetdonahue) June 5, 2018
Depression does not discriminate and comes without warning. RIP Kate Spade. Love to her family.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
— josh groban (@joshgroban) June 5, 2018
Most people think about Kate Spade because of the beautiful things she designed. I think of her as a mom.
— Elizabeth Holmes (@EHolmes) June 5, 2018