The fashion world was rocked Tuesday by the news that Kate Spade, famous for her preppy accessories and clothing adorned with bright colors and idioms, committed suicide by hanging in her Park Avenue home. She was 55 years old.
Spade was found unconscious by her housekeeper “hanging from a red scarf tied to a doorknob,” The New York Times reported. The housekeeper called 911 and Spade was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:26 a.m. Police confirmed that Spade had left a note, but “did not comment on what it said.”
Kelly Cutrone, a renowned fashion publicist who personally knew Spade, burst out in tears when informed of the tragic news by The Daily Beast.
“I’m so sad to hear that. It’s so sad,” she said. “I saw her two months ago. She was fine but everyone seems fine. It’s such a sad story. Especially for her kids. My heart goes out to her family.”
Celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who has known Spade for decades, was also devastated to learn of the news. “It’s sad, very, very sad. It’s one of those things where you look and say you’ve got a husband and a kid and a business, how did this happen?” he said.
Spade’s namesake brand also reacted after the passing of its founder broke. “Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand,” the statement from Kate Spade New York read. “Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time.”
A source close to Spade said the designer was just weeks ago touring her daughter Frances Beatrix’s boarding school as part of “revisit” day.
“That was two weeks ago,” said the source. “I can’t believe she was touring her school and committing to it and then fast forward two weeks she takes her own life.”
Kate and her husband, Andy Spade, started Kate Spade Handbags in 1993 before taking it full-scale in 1994. The “nylon handbags that were soon spotted all over the streets of major cities worldwide” and her candy-colored designs struck a note of whimsy with her devotees, according to WWD.
Before her foray into her own brand, she worked at Mademoiselle magazine as senior editor in charge of accessories, she recalled in an NPR interview. She said her experiences working with the bags helped her form the Kate Spade aesthetic.
“At the time, things were very—bags were too complicated. And I really loved very simple kind of architectural shapes. And I would wear these very simple shapes, none of which were famous designers,” she told How I Made This. “And I thought, gosh, I mean, why can't we find something just clean and simple and modern?”
The outlet reported that the Spades walked away from the brand in 2007 after her brand was acquired for $125 million, and Kate started a new fashion venture named after her 13-year old daughter in 2016.
Cutrone eulogized Spade’s impact on the fashion industry: “She’s the female version of Ralph Lauren. She brought back in an era of Americana to fashion.”
She further lamented: “The industry is endemic with suicide, bankruptcy, depression and addiction. A lot of people in the fashion industry are having a hard time. Its proportionally very high. The real issue is why are so many creatives alone. Its super sad. I just said to my assistant, ‘How many times do we get these calls a year?’”
“She was a game changer in the handbag industry. All the household and legacy brands are not American they are European. She shifted the industry. She was far ahead of a lot of the other companies,” remembered Robert Verdi, stylist and fashion TV personality, who knew Spade both professionally and socially.
“She got it at every level. It’s tragic to think that underneath this extraordinary business that became a household name that there is this sadness and dark cloud,” Verdi continued. “What is going through her head in those last couple of minutes? To feel that alone and to be so dark compared to the aesthetic of that brand which was a happy joyful brand.”
Spade’s death eerily echoes that of stylist and designer L’Wren Scott, who similarly hanged herself with a scarf in 2014. Similarly, British designer Alexander McQueen’s 2010 suicide also shocked the fashion world. McQueen died by hanging in his London apartment, right before the international fashion show season was set to begin.
Bloch expressed frustration at how the fashion industry’s pressures seemingly exacerbate people’s personal struggles.
“The fashion industry is extremely difficult right now,” he explained. “There is a lot of pressure on people to be relevant... Retail is a disaster. Sales are awful. There is no loyalty and its it’s very turbulent. Everyone loves you yesterday but today they don’t like you and tomorrow who knows?
“We live in a shallow and superficial world but no one was really hearing what Kate was saying to them as she was clearly depressed.”
He continued: “It’s terrible for the industry because no one respects anyone anymore and no one loves anyone anymore and no one is listening. There is no place lonelier than the top. There is always down. I think we are going to see more and more of it.”
Bloch concluded: “You can have all the success and it can look so great but you can still feel like a failure.”