Kate Spade Biography

Fashion Designer (1962–2018)
American fashion designer Kate Spade became known for launching a successful line of handbags in the 1990s.

Who Was Kate Spade?

Fashion designer and businesswoman Kate Spade was born in 1962 in Kansas City, Missouri. She launched her own line of Kate Spade handbags in 1993, and the company expanded to include numerous retail outlets and selling its products through high-end stores. Spade sold the remaining shares of her company in 2006, but later resurfaced with a new fashion brand. She was found dead in her New York apartment from an apparent suicide on June 5, 2018.

Early Years

Kate Spade was born Katherine Noel Brosnahan on December 24, 1962, in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1985, after earning a degree in journalism, she went to work for Mademoiselle magazine in New York City. She would spend five years at Mademoiselle, eventually becoming a senior fashion editor and head of accessories, before leaving in 1991 to put her creative energy toward designing her own line.

Fashion Success

Kate Spade put her knowledge and interest in accessories to work, launching her own brand of handbags in 1993 and opening a small boutique in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan soon after. Her handbags were distinctive for their modern, sleek look, pops of color and utilitarian shapes. Her husband became her partner, and, over the years, their business expanded internationally. 

The company, which went on to carry fashion items beyond her signature bags, grew to include several retail outlets and saw its products featured in such high-end stores like Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. In 1996 the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored Spade's classic designs by giving her the "America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories" award.

Kate Spade went on to offer products in a range of categories, from eyewear to shoes to paper goods, in more than 450 stores globally. While they sold the business to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999 — which was later sold to Fifth & Pacific (formerly Liz Claiborne) in 2006 — the Spades remained active forces within the brand they built.

In 2004, Kate Spade shared her personal style and philosophies in her three books: Manners, Occasions and Style. Two years later, Kate and her husband sold the Kate Spade brand so that Kate could devote more time to raising their child. Around the same time, the couple invested in Plum TV, a small television network that broadcasts in the elite vacation spots: the Hamptons, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

In 2016, the Spades, along with their longtime friends, Elyce Arons and shoe designer Paola Venturi, launched their new fashion endeavor, Frances Valentine. That year also brought the introduction of a Minnie Mouse-themed line of products, its popularity leading to a new batch of Minnie purses, phone accessories and jewelry in 2017. 

Personal Life

In 1983, Spade met her future husband, Andy, while both were students at Arizona State University, and they married in 1994. Andy is the brother of actor and comedian David Spade. The couple welcomed their child, Frances Beatrix Spade, in February 2005.

Death

On June 5, 2018, law enforcement officials announced that Spade had been found dead by a housekeeper in her Park Avenue apartment in Manhattan from an apparent suicide. The 55-year-old reportedly hung herself by a scarf tied to a door, leaving behind a note for her daughter. "We are all devastated by today’s tragedy," the family said in a statement to the New York Daily News.

The following day, her husband revealed that the designer had been battling severe depression for the past six years. "She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives," he said. "There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock." 

Andy Spade also said the two had hit a bumpy point in their marriage and were living apart, though he shot down the notion that marital problems had pushed his wife over the edge. "We were not legally separated, and never even discussed divorce," he said. "We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how."

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