Fashion Designer Kate Spade Dies at 55

Kate Spade - 2017 Build Series - Getty - H 2018
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Spade was found dead in New York of an apparent suicide.

Kate Spade, a fashion designer known for her sleek handbags, was found dead Tuesday in her Park Avenue apartment in an apparent suicide, police confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 55.

News of her death shocked the fashion world and led to an outpouring of tributes from her legions of fans.

A housekeeper discovered Spade’s body hanging in her bedroom, police said. While investigators were still in the early stages of their inquiry, the department’s chief of detectives, Dermot Shea, said evidence including a note pointed to “a tragic suicide.”

Shea wouldn’t discuss what was in the note, but law enforcement officials told the Associated Press that, among other things, it contained a message to Spade’s 13-year-old daughter, saying it was not her fault. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We are all devastated by today’s tragedy,” Spade’s family said in a statement through a spokesman. “We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time.”

The body was found not long after 10 a.m., police said. Her husband and business partner Andy Spade was in the apartment at the time. The couple’s daughter was at school. 

It’s not clear how long she had been dead. 

On Thursday, two days after she was found dead, New York City's chief medical examiner ruled Spade's death a suicide by hanging.

A crime scene truck was parked outside Spade’s building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and barriers had been set up to keep back reporters and gawkers who were arriving to the building.

The company she founded, Kate Spade New York, has over 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the U.S. and more than 175 shops internationally. Kate Spade New York's official Twitter account posted a tribute on 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."

Julia Curry, a spokeswoman for the company, said that “Kate will be dearly missed” and “our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time.”

Neva Hall, executive vp at Neiman Marcus Stores, said the news was devastating.

“Her creative light and bright mind will be greatly missed,” Hall wrote in a statement.

Spade, born Katherine Brosnahan, rose to fame in the 1990s, creating a line of nylon handbags, emblazoned with her own name as a logo, that created a smash, become the aspirational bags for many women starting out in their careers.

Unable to find any purses in the market she wanted to carry, she used her 401(k) money to launch a line of square-shaped totes in 1993. The night before introducing them at a trade show, Spade made the snap decision to put the labels on the outside of the bags instead of inside, and it became her signature.

“I grew up in the Midwest, where you have to have it [a fashion item] because you like it, not because you’re supposed to have it,” she told the AP in 2004. “For our customers, fashion is in the right place in their life. It’s an adornment, not an obsession.”

Spade grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and majored in journalism at Arizona State University, where she met her husband, Andy Spade (brother of actor David Spade). 

David Spade paid tribute on Tuesday with an Instagram post, which read: "She was so sharp and quick on her feet. She could make me laugh so hard. I still cant believe it. Its a rough world out there people, try to hang on."

After college, Kate and Andy Spade moved to New York, where Kate Spade became accessories editor at Mademoiselle before launching her eponymous collection in 1993. Just six years later, Neiman Marcus bought 56 percent of the company for $33.6 million.

Her business grew to include stationery, raincoats, eyewear, shoes and perfume.

Winning nearly every accolade possible for a designer, she opened the door for a generation of female businesswomen, including Anya Hindmarch and Clare Vivier, who built lifestyle brands around bag lines. 

In 2007, Spade left Kate Spade New York, which she founded with her husband. In 2016, Spade announced she changed her last name to Valentine to help distinguish between her brands Kate Spade New York and Frances Valentine. Last year, Coach bought Kate Spade for $2.4 billion and changed its name to Tapestry Inc. to include the acquired brands Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman. 

Her niece, actress Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), shared a video of her aunt on Wednesday morning. In an Instagram post, Brosnahan wrote, "Knowing Katy, this is how she would want to be remembered. She had a light that words can’t capture but touched everyone she came into contact with. She was exceedingly kind, beautifully sensitive, insanely talented, funny as heck and one of the most generous people I have ever known. She was effervescent. Hug your loved ones extra tight today."

Council of Fashion Designers of America president Steven Kolb and chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg released a joint statement, saying, "The CFDA is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague and CFDA member Kate Spade's tragic passing."

June 7, 9 a.m. Updated with official cause of death.