Photo: Alexander Warnow / The Chronicle 2007
Fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, was found dead by a housekeeper in her New York City apartment, an apparent suicide, the Associated Press reported earlier today. The news sent shock waves through the fashion community.
“She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories,” designer Diane von Furstenberg and Steven Kolb said in a joint statement posted on the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s website. Kolb is chief executive of the council, and Spade had been honored for her accessories design twice by the industry group, in 1996 and 1998.
Many others took to Twitter to express condolences. “My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college,” tweeted Chelsea Clinton. “I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.”
Designer Liz Lange said, “The nicest woman, the first person to compliment me on Liz Lange Maternity when I first started. And the creator of the most iconic brand. I am heartbroken by this news.”
Known for its minimalist handbags and retro-feminine aesthetic, Kate Spade was a powerhouse brand that transformed the accessories market at a time when the market and fashion press heralded designer names and status-symbol handbags.
The whimsical aesthetic, embodied by the chic Spade herself and widely copied by others, drew on iconic 1950s and ’60s touchstones but updated them with color and female empowerment slogans such as “She is quick, curious, playful and strong.”
Photo: Bob Owen / San Antonio Express-News 2015
Trends in handbags for the upcoming spring include this Kate Spade fuchsia tote, $288.
Spade started the company in 1993 with her husband, Andy, and carved out a niche of affordable yet aspirational leather goods that appealed to a wide range of working women. The accessory brand evolved into a lifestyle brand earlier than most, adding stationery, clothing, jewelry, eyewear and fragrances. In 2004, Kate Spade at Home was launched with bedding, wallpaper, home decor and a popular line of china.
Spade was no longer involved with the company, which was acquired by Neiman Marcus Group (then known as Liz Claiborne Inc.) in 2006, and last year by Coach for $2.4 billion. Spade left in 2007 and started a new accessories line called Frances Valentine, and even legally changed her last name to Valentine. There are 140 Kate Spade stores throughout the U.S., and locally at Westfield San Francisco Centre, Stanford Shopping Center, Santana Row, and on Burlingame Avenue, plus outlet stores.
The Spades, who collected art, attended SFMOMA’s Warhol-themed Modern Ball in 2007 and other events in San Francisco over the years. (View the gallery to see more.) Spade is survived by her husband of 24 years and their daughter, Frances Beatrix.