Spade’s husband, Andy, shared a statement Wednesday that said his wife was being treated for anxiety and depression in the years leading to her death.
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years,” he said. “She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives.”
Kate Spade New York, the label the couple founded in 1993, tweeted a statement Tuesday: “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.”
News of Spade’s death prompted an outpouring of grief and tributes from Kate Spade fans on social media. Many also shared the number for the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 800-273-8255.
Spade became synonymous with the popular fashion brand that bore her name. Together with her soon-to-be-husband, she founded the Kate Spade label 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.
The first Kate Spade shop in New York opened in 1996. Three years later, the couple sold a large stake in the company to Neiman Marcus, which later acquired the remaining portion and sold it to Liz Claiborne in 2007. Both founders eventually left the brand, which is now part of Tapestry, an accessible-luxury group that also owns Coach and Stuart Weitzman. There are more than 140 Kate Spade retail and outlet stores in the United States and more than 175 internationally.
Spade was honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America twice: as “America’s new fashion talent in accessories” in 1996 and as best accessory designer in 1998. The CFDA tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the organization “is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague, and CFDA member Kate Spades’s tragic passing. She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories.”
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2000 that the Kate Spade logo — the name written in a serif font, now with a small spade — had “joined the status signature company of Gucci’s double-Gs, Chanel’s double-Cs and Louis Vuitton’s LVs.” Spade had told Forbes’s Michelle Conlin two years prior that the look came about on the eve of her first trade show, when she impulsively removed the “Kate Spade New York” labels from the inside of her handbags and stitched them onto the outside.
Spade’s vision was “to bring handbags back to what they had been in the 1950s and 1960s — elegant, classic and unpretentious complements to outfits, not bauble-festooned statements about their owner’s affluence la Prada and Chanel,” Conlin wrote. “She moved away from the expensive leather look and designed simple nylon totes, pink herringbone carryalls, velvet tiger-print shoppers and burlap satchels with raffia hula-skirt fringe. Priced at $100 to $400, Spade’s bags weren’t cheap, but they didn’t cost $2,000 like some of the competition.”
Vanity Fair wrote in a 2002 profile of the Spades that they had “built a $70 million business by knowing what they don’t want to be — too luxe, too hip, too retro, too fashionable, too fast. In other words, they’re having fun being exactly who they are.”
Born Katherine Brosnahan in Kansas City, Mo., Spade graduated from Arizona State University in 1985 with a degree in journalism. She told the New York Times in 1999 that she wanted to be “behind the scenes, like in that movie ‘Broadcast News.’ Holly Hunter — her I wanted to be.” Spade landed a job at the magazine publisher Condé Nast in New York as an assistant and worked her way up to senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle, dealing with accessories for fashion shoots.
At the time, “bags were too complicated,” Spade later told NPR. “And I really loved very simple kind of architectural shapes. And I would wear these very simple shapes, none of which were famous designers. I mean, there were no names. If someone were to say, whose is that? I’d say, I don’t know, I bought it at a vintage store or it’s a straw bag I got in Mexico.
“They were all very square and simple,” Spade said. “And I thought, gosh, I mean, why can’t we find something just clean and simple and modern?”
She would soon quit her magazine job to join Andy Spade in co-founding the fashion label, which combined both of their names. (She was still Kate Brosnahan at the time.)
Spade was an emeritus chair of the New York Center for Children, an organization that advocates for and helps treat victims of child abuse. She became more involved in philanthropy work after leaving her brand in 2007.
In 2016, the Spades launched a luxury handbag and footwear brand called Frances Valentine. Spade changed her name to Kate Valentine Spade that year and told Women’s Wear Daily: “Frances is a longtime family name on my dad’s side. My grandfather, father, brother and my daughter’s name is Frances. And then Valentine was my mom’s dad’s middle name because he was born on Valentine’s Day.”
The couple described their joint creative process to Business of Fashion ahead of the new brand’s launch.
“Kate will pick apart a colour,” Andy Spade said. “She’ll go through it 80 times to make sure it’s the right brown. I think I’m more ‘broad concepts’ and Kate is more detailed.”
Kate Spade added: “The sensibility is the same. This time around, I like the idea that it’s small, intimate, and that everyone that we work with we’ve worked with before. . . . I like the idea of being more behind the scenes.”
Robin Givhan, fashion critic for The Washington Post, described ballerina shoes from Frances Valentine’s spring 2017 collection as “glitzy and princess-like.” Givhan continued:
“They veer deep into precious and sugary and are reminiscent of the brand Valentine started more than 20 years ago. But the ankle boots are more sophisticated and have a leaner, city edge. They seem to reflect Valentine [Spade]’s observation that as she has gotten older, her tastes have evolved and she has become more confident in her style. She isn’t a different person, but the times are different.”
Spade is survived by her husband and daughter.