Madonna Badger, the fashion advertising executive whose Stamford, Conn., home tragically burned down early Christmas morning, killing her daughters Lily (9), Grace (7) and Sarah (7) and parents Lomer and Pauline Johnson, has made many close friendships in the fashion industry over the years. But few so close as Michelle Kessler-Sanders.
Currently executive vice president and creative director of the Vera Wang Group, Kessler-Sanders was accessories director at Vogue for six years, president of Miu Miu at Prada and VP of the accessories division at Donna Karan before her tenure at Vera Wang.
She spoke to The Hollywood Reporter exclusively, after she was given permission by the family to speak on their behalf.
"I met Madonna Badger in the early '90s, when we both worked at Calvin Klein," Kessler-Sanders tells THR. "I was in the press department, working with the late Carolyn Bessette [who became Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy]. Madonna was the art director, she conceived of the whole Marky Mark/Calvin Klein campaign, which is so iconic. It was an incredible time at the company. I think even Calvin Klein would say that. Narciso Rodriguez was on the design team. It was an amazing staff.
"Madonna and I stayed very close. I had her baby shower for her first daughter, Lily. We stayed very close throughout all of our mutual pregnancies. She had my baby shower for me when my son was born. She was the very first person who came to the hospital. Although, since she moved to Connecticut, we didn't see each other as much, we remained connected as old friends do."
Kessler-Sanders, of course, is grieving, along with all of Badger's friends, but she says they're all there with her.
"I don't even know how to describe to you how this is for me," she says. "For all her friends, it's almost inconceivable. But she has an amazing network of friends who have all shown up. That first day after the fire, we were all together. The children's father, Matthew Badger, is going through this in his own way, very privately. But there has been an enormous outpouring for Madonna. You can't possibly say anything to comfort a person in this time. You just have to be there and sit with her. Be there so she knows she's not alone. She is being cared for by the right people, close friends. She is not alone."
Kessler-Sanders learned of the tragedy just before 7 a.m. on Sunday morning when a mutual friend called to tell her about it.
"I couldn't absorb it," she says. "But over the last couple days, you realize -- it's epic. It's so awful. But here's what I know about Madonna Badger: She is the strongest woman I've ever known in my life, throughout our 20-year friendship. I could not handle this myself. But she will find a way to do good things in her life because of this. It will take time, obviously."