Like the designer herself, Kate Spade's signature handbags were stylish, practical and fun. That's what makes the disturbing news of her suicide this morning so shocking.
The 55-year-old Spade (who two years ago changed her last name to Valentine) hanged herself with a scarf in the bedroom of the New York City apartment she shared with her husband of 24 years, Andy (the brother of comedian David Spade), and their 13-year-old daughter.
A note was found at the scene, police said, but its contents have not been revealed.
"We are all devastated by today's tragedy," the designer's family said in a statement. "We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time."
A fashion editor at Mademoiselle in the 1980s, Spade and her husband started their own company in 1993, "kate spade handbags"—all lower case.
"Using paper," noted Vanity Fair in a 2002 profile of the couple, "she designed a prototype for the kind of bag she herself wanted to carry but could never find: good-natured, ladylike, with echoes of Mom's mid-century, short-handled bag (the kind that could stand up on its own), but stripped of decorative busyness on the outside, pared down to a sculpted stroke of color or patterned fabric. It was so pared down that Kate took the label from the inside and stitched it to the outside—so the eye would have a place to go."
Spade's quintessentially American handbags were a smash with fashionistas and everyday consumers. She soon took the same whimsical approach to clothes and accessories.
"She was the embodiment of her own aesthetic," says the New York Times, "with her proto-1960s bouffant, nerd glasses and kooky grin, which masked a business mind that saw the opportunites in becoming a lifestyle brand, almost before the term officially existed."
In 2006 Kate and Andy Spade sold the business to Neiman Marcus, which already had a large stake in the company. The luxury retailer soon sold it to another fashion company, Liz Claiborne Inc., for $125 million. Claiborne then rebranded itself as Kate Spade & Company, which was acquired by luxury fashion marketer Tapestry Inc. in 2017 for $2.4 billion. Kate said she let go of the business in order to spend more time with her family.
In 2016, the designer launched Frances Valentine, a footwear and accessories line named after her daughter Frances, and legally changed her own last name to Valentine.
Her suicide is eerily similar to the 2014 death of L'Wren Scott, the stylist, fashion designer and estranged girlfriend of Mick Jagger. Scott hanged herself with a scarf inside her Manhattan apartment. She was 49.