The fashion industry was shocked when yesterday it was announced that designer Kate Spade, 55, was found hanged in her apartment at 850 Park Avenue, New York.
Born Katherine Noel Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1962, she attended the University of Kansas and then transferred to Arizona State University, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1985.
She started working in the accessories department of Mademoiselle in Manhattan and, in the early '90s, she launched her brand together with Andy Spade, who later on became her husband.
The company mainly produced affordable clothes and accessories, such as her popular nylon bags, but soon expanded to other categories including stationery, eyewear and fragrances. Spade favoured cheerful and playful pieces that people enjoyed for their functionality and practicality.
Before that, though, in 1999, Neiman Marcus Group had purchased 56% of the Kate Spade brand and, in 2006, it acquired the remaining 44%. The group then sold the Kate Spade label for $124 million to Liz Claiborne Inc. and Spade stepped away from her company in 2007, focusing on being a full-time mother.
She launched a new collection - called Frances Valentine - of footwear and accessories in 2016. In the meantime last year, after rebranding as Kate Spade & Co, Claiborne sold the brand to Tapestry (owner of Coach and Stuart Weitzman) for $2.4billion.
The day before Spade's untimely death, The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) gathered in Brooklyn for its annual awards.
In 1996, the Council awarded Spade the "America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories" award, followed two years later by the prize for "Best Accessory Designer of the Year". Spade was a member of the CFDA, but did not attend this year's ceremony.
As the news of her death arrived, CFDA chairman Diane von Furstenberg issued the following statement: "The CFDA is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague, and CFDA member Kate Spade's tragic passing. She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories. We want to honor her life and her major contribution to the fashion business and express our most sincere condolences to the family."
Kate Spade New York, now owned by Tapestry Inc., stated on the social media: "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 the world."
While in some reports it was stated that Spade was depressed about marital and money problems, relatives and her sister in particular claimed instead she was battling mental illness and she suffered from bipolar disorder. According to her sister she kept on postponing going into treatment as she thought it would have hurt the image of her brand, yet her husband highlighted in a statement today that the designer suffered from depression and anxiety and was "actively seeking help".
Spade's story raises new concerns about mental illnesses in connection with the fashion industry: she is indeed the third high-profile suicide in the fashion industry in the last eight years and follows Alexander McQueen's and L'Wren Scott's tragic deaths in 2010 and 2014. Somehow, though different in her inspirations and designs from McQueen's, her death seems prompted by similar reasons: the British designer couldn't reconcile the most commercial aspects of the fashion industry with his strong fantastic visions; if, as her sister claims she suffered from bipolar disorder, Spade couldn't reconcile her personal condition with the happy-go-lucky image of her brand.
Spade, who is also the aunt of Rachel Brosnahan, star of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, is survived by her husband Andy, brother of actor David Spade, and daughter, Frances, 13.