KATE SPADE A look back at the fash­ion de­signer’s life.

1962-2018 Be­hind her happy-go-lucky flair for de­sign, a dark—and deadly—de­pres­sion lurked

WHO - - Contents - By San­dra So­bieraj West­fall

In the airy Park Av­enue apart­ment she called home, Kate Spade sur­rounded her­self with keep­sakes of laugh­ter and love: dozens of fam­ily pho­tos and sil­ver cig­a­rette boxes that re­minded her of her late mother, piles of books that her col­lege-sweet­heart hus­band, Andy, savoured and among the framed art­work dis­played floor-to-ceil­ing, her daugh­ter Bea’s cre­ations out of con­struc­tion pa­per and glit­ter. All of it res­onated with the cheer­ful vibe of the fash­ion em­pire she and Andy had built.

But none of it, in the end, had any power to over­come the dis­ease Kate qui­etly bat­tled. Around 10.10 on the morn­ing of June 5, a house­keeper ar­rived to find Kate alone—and un­re­spon­sive in her bed­room. She had died of sui­cide at the age of 55. While friends and fans reeled, her hus­band and part­ner of 35 years re­vealed late the same day that Kate had been in treat­ment for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety. What’s more, Andy, 56, had moved out 10 months ear­lier to an apart­ment blocks away, where Bea, 13, split her time. “We were in touch with [Kate] the night be­fore and she sounded happy,” Andy said.

“There was no in­di­ca­tion and no warn­ing that she would do this. It was a com­plete shock and it clearly wasn’t her.”

The in­con­gruity be­tween the suc­cess­ful de­signer-mum who, with her colour­fully whim­si­cal aes­thetic, seemed to em­body sun­shine it­self—and the dark­ness of her death made no sense. Shocked ad­mir­ers from Chelsea Clin­ton (see left) to Whoopi Gold­berg posted ar­ti­cles on so­cial me­dia about the alarm­ing rise in Amer­ica’s sui­cide rates and shared mem­o­ries of their first Kate Spade hand­bag. “Young women saved up for it,” said Gold­berg. “It was like you were Mary Tyler Moore; you felt like you could do any­thing if you had this bag.”

Start­ing in 1993 with a black ny­lon tote— with a small iden­ti­fi­able la­bel on the out­side— Kate was a two-time Coun­cil of Fash­ion De­sign­ers of Amer­ica award-win­ner. “Her col­lec­tion was one of the most pop­u­lar and bril­liant,” says for­mer CFDA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Fern Mal­lis. “She was as adorable as her ac­ces­sories were. She and Andy were very much in the front lane of the fash­ion uni­verse.”

They were at home in celebrity cir­cles, too. Andy’s brother is the comic ac­tor David Spade; Kate’s niece is Rachel Bros­na­han, the Golden-Globe–win­ning star of Ama­zon Prime Video’s The Mar­vel­lous Mrs Maisel. That Kate—who two years ago had opened a new chap­ter with a new line called Frances Valen­tine—could end her life was un­think­able even to those who were aware of her pri­vate strug­gles. “We knew Kate had her prob­lems and demons,” one friend tells WHO. “But no-one would have ever ex­pected her to do this.”

Katy Bros­na­han grew up in Kansas City, one of five sis­ters and a brother in the Ir­ish-Catholic brood of Frank, who owned a con­struc­tion com­pany, and June, a for­mer flight at­ten­dant who died in 2010. Kate

de­scribed her­self as “very shy” in high school. A jour­nal­ism ma­jor in col­lege, she met Andy when the two were work­ing their way through Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity at the same cloth­ing store. She moved to Man­hat­tan af­ter grad­u­a­tion and, in 1986, took a $14,000-a-year job as an as­sis­tant at Made­moi­selle mag­a­zine, where she col­lected hand­bags for photo shoots. “We sat next to each other,” re­mem­bers thenac­ces­sories editor El­iz­a­beth Per­ine. “There was some­thing so whole­some and down-toearth about Katy B. She seemed too nice to go on and be­come so suc­cess­ful.”

By then, Andy had fol­lowed Kate to New York, “ris­ing fast in the ad­ver­tis­ing world and a mar­ket­ing ge­nius,” re­calls an­other of Kate’s Made­moi­selle col­leagues. Andy sug­gested in 1991 that Kate try de­sign. “He just said, what about hand­bags? And I said, ‘Honey, you just don’t start a hand­bag com­pany.’ And he said, ‘ Why not?’ ” Kate later told the How I Built This pod­cast.

In 1993, a year be­fore they mar­ried, Kate Spade New York was born. Run­ning the busi­ness out of their apart­ment at first, the cou­ple com­pleted the sale of their com­pany to Neiman Mar­cus in 2006, bank­ing $US92.6 mil­lion. Baby Frances Beatrix—“bea”—was just a year old and Kate took 10 years off to fo­cus on be­ing a mum. “It was so nat­u­ral for me to get in­volved in my daugh­ter’s school, her play dates and bak­ing,” Kate told WHO in 2016. She was chair of a par­ent com­mit­tee at Bea’s pri­vate all-girls’ school and would throw on a pair of yel­low shoes with rhine­stones for the morn­ing drop-off run in her work­out clothes. “It all sounds a lit­tle corny,” Kate said, “but I en­joyed ev­ery minute of it.” Said an ac­quain­tance from school cir­cles, “Kate was friendly with many of the moth­ers. No-one there had any idea she was strug­gling.”

Look­ing back, maybe she did drop clues. In an in­ter­view with WHO in July 2016 on the launch of Frances Valen­tine, Kate re­peat­edly spoke of her ten­dency to fret. “I might worry a lit­tle more than oth­ers,” Kate said. “And I def­i­nitely don’t want my daugh­ter to feel that way. My dad al­ways says, ‘Just float. Not ev­ery lit­tle peb­ble is a boul­der.’ ” She also chafed a lit­tle at the loss of recog­ni­tion dur­ing her break from the in­dus­try. Stop­ping in a Kate Spade store to buy Bea a skirt, the sales­woman asked if Kate was on their mail­ing list. “My daugh­ter was look­ing at me like, ‘C’mon, just tell her.’ And I was like, ‘No,’ ” Kate re­called. “But I loved, ‘Are you on our mail­ing list?’ I cre­ated your mail­ing list!”

As for the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of her mar­riage, Andy cast it as a tem­po­rary break and em­pha­sised af­ter her sui­cide that the three of them still had fam­ily din­ners and hol­i­dayed to­gether. “We were best friends try­ing to work through our prob­lems.”

Kate’s friend, who re­quested anonymity, vouches for the split be­ing am­i­ca­ble, at least on its face. “They had is­sues for a while, but you never heard them speak­ing poorly of one an­other. Andy is do­ing his best to be there for Bea and pro­tect her from what is go­ing on.” While Andy works out with Frank Bros­na­han his wish to have his daugh­ter home in Kansas to be buried be­side her mother (funeral plans were un­cer­tain at press time), those Kate left be­hind searched for mean­ing in their grief. Her dad told The Kansas City Star he was grat­i­fied by the at­ten­tion on men­tal ill­ness and sui­cide: “Any talk that ... helps some­body else, Katy would have liked that.” And David Spade fo­cused on Kate’s light. “She could make me laugh so hard,” he wrote on In­sta­gram. “It’s a rough world out there, peo­ple. Try to hang on.”

If you or some­one you know needs help, con­tact Life­line on 13 11 14 or www.life­line.org.au

The Park Av­enue apart­ment where Spade was found un­re­spon­sive on the morn­ing on June 5.

Kate (at her Bos­ton store in 1999) sold a 56 per cent stake in the com­pany for $US33.6 mil­lion. Mary-kate and Ash­ley Olsen car­ried Kate’s “It” bag.

Andy with Kate in 2003 is “more re­laxed, more of a risk-taker,” Kate said. David Spade (left, circa 2000) re­mem­bered Kate as “so sharp and quick on her feet.” Kate’s bags “helped shape the aes­thetic of the time—sim­ple but mean­ing­ful and func­tional,” says CFDA pres­i­dent Steven Kolb. Kate re­fused busi­ness of­fers that would take her away from Bea (in 2007).

“I’m a worry wart ... I look at what’s not work­ing rather than what is” —Kate Spade, in July 2016

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