The fashion industry lost one of its female heroines on Tuesday, when Kate Spade was found dead in New York City.
Spade rose to fame in the 1990s, creating a line of sleek nylon handbags that became the aspirational It bags for many career women. Priced in the $200-$600 range, with the telltale “Kate Spade” label on the outside, they were a status symbol for the minimalist era.
Tributes have poured in on social media, from both sides of the political spectrum, posted by everyone from Chelsea Clinton (“My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart”) to fashion brand builder Ivanka Trump (“Kate Spade’s tragic passing is a painful reminder that we never truly know another’s pain or burden they carry”).
Lena Dunham, Kristin Davis, Viola Davis, Olivia Munn, Josh Groban and other Hollywood personalities also weighed in.
“I am heartbroken about the news of Kate Spade,” wrote Mindy Kaling, who has worn Kate Spade’s quirky fun clothes many times, including on her show The Mindy Project. “I have worn her clothes many, many times. They were colorful, bold, cheerful and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them. You coulldn’t walk into her boutiques and not smile.”
Spade met husband Andy (whose brother is actor David Spade) in college at Arizona State University, when they both worked at the same clothing store. The two moved to New York City after graduation; Andy went into advertising and Kate into fashion. She would eventually become the accessories editor at now-defunct Mademoiselle.
Unable to find any purses in the market she wanted to carry, Spade used her 401K money to launch a line of square shaped totes in 1993. The night before introducing them at trade shows, she made a snap decision to put the labels on the outside of the bags instead of the inside, and it became her signature. A Jack Spade line of men’s bags followed in 1996.
Spade developed a sunny lifestyle brand around her fiercely feminine, slightly retro aesthetic (which reminds me of the look of her niece Rachel Brosnahan on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). Often piling her hair in a beehive ‘do, and wearing pedal pushers like Audrey Hepburn, she became a fixture on the scenes in New York City and in Southampton.