Inside the Private Life of Kate Spade

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Iconic fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment of apparent suicide, the NYPD confirmed to ET on Tuesday. She was 55 years old.

Though Spade's quirky and ladylike designs have been a red carpet staple since the '90s -- when her label of the same name launched -- much isn't known about the incredibly private designer, who rarely gave interviews. 

What is known is that Spade was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended Arizona State University, graduating in 1985 with a degree in journalism. Spade's fashion career took off quickly after graduation, working in the accessories department of Mademoiselle magazine in Manhattan, where she was still known by her maiden name, Katy Brosnahan. She worked her way up to senior fashion editor and head of accessories before she left the magazine in 1991.

During her time at Mademoiselle, Spade continued to date Andy Spade -- actor David Spade's older brother -- whom she met in Arizona when they worked at the same clothing store together. The two married in 1994, though they started their label, "kate spade handbags," a year before, in January 1993. The incredibly successful line eventually spread to encompass everything from clothing, jewelry, shoes, stationary, to eyewear and more.

Of course, it wasn't always smooth sailing. In a February 2017 interview with National Public Radio, Spade candidly talked about going to trade shows in the early days of starting her own line, and wanting to quit. Luckily, she had the support of Andy, who encouraged her to keep going.

"Well, I remember crying because when I came home, we hadn't even sold enough to cover the cost of the booth," she recalled. "And I started crying. And Andy said, 'Well, who did you get?' And I said, 'Well, we got Barney's.' And he said, 'OK.' And I said, 'Fred Segal in Los Angeles,' and he was like, 'Right?' And then he goes, 'Katie, you've got two of the best stores in America, why are you crying?'"

"I said, 'I think we should shut it down,'" she continued. "I'm very conservative. And I said, 'I have no interest in losing money.' You know, we've already spent $4,000. That's it for me. I'm not a gambler. So that's where Andy was like, 'No, keep going.'"

Though Spade appeared reserved in the rare interviews she did grant, her whimsical, colorful designs definitely made her brand stand out. In particular, Spade's designs would often include quotes celebrating women and a sense of adventure. In 1996, the Council of Fashion Designers of America awarded Spade "America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories" and in 1998, CFDA also honored her for "Best Accessory Designer of the Year".

"I do things that I actually love and understand," Spade told The Palm Beach Post in 2002 of her incredible career. "I love beauty. I have bags and bags of products, and I think Andy is thrilled I'm doing it so I don't have to buy it anymore." 

According to Forbes, in 1999, the Spades sold a 56 percent stake of their company to Neiman Marcus, then, in 2006, sold the remaining 44 percent to Neiman, and took time to raise their daughter, Frances Beatrix, whom they welcomed in 2005. The Spades reportedly walked away with $46.5 million before taxes.

"So we had a baby in 2005. And I just remember thinking it was a perfect opportunity," Spade told NPR of the decision. "It was a perfect time to leave. I wanted to spend time with my daughter. You've heard so many horror stories about people who sell and then they stay and then they fight and then they sue. And I just thought, that's too ugly for me. So we left on great terms. We stayed, we did a turnover for a year and I think we were there."

In May 2017, Coach purchased Kate Spade for $18.50 per share, or $2.4 billion. But since the Spades sold all of their shares, they didn't see any money from the billion-dollar sale.

However, Spade also told NPR she didn't regret her decision.

"People have said, 'Oh, do you have any regrets?' And I remember thinking, oh, I hope I don't, and I never have," she noted. "And I think they've done such a good job that luckily I don't have to. And we do walk by the stores. And I have a funny story that we actually walked into a store to buy my daughter something. And we went to the cash register, and she said, 'Are you on our mailing list?' And I said, 'I don't think so.' And so then I used my maiden name. ... And then my daughter kind of kept nudging me. She was dying for me to say something, and I didn't. And then I remember thinking, you know, no, I'm not on your mailing list, but I think I helped create it."

But in 2016, Spade launched a comeback with a new line, Frances Valentine, named after her daughter. In a November 2016 interview with The Cut, Spade detailed a typical busy day of hers, which aside from running her new business, included plenty of family time.

"I normally get up at 6:30 and get everything organized by the time my daughter gets up -- I’m a little OCD," she said. "I turn on all the lights, get everything going, start making breakfast. I slowly wake my daughter up -- I give her a little nudge every 10 minutes. I swear to god, it’s so exhausting. She’s going to be 12 at the end of February. I feed the dog; I feed the fish. My husband, Andy, runs to Starbucks because he doesn’t want any part of that banter. I’m in my daughter’s room going, 'Oh my god, I asked you 20 minutes ago and you’re still in your pajamas.' It’s a little mini battle."

"Our family has dinner together every night -- you can tell that my daughter wants to run," she continued. "After dinner, I go up to my room and immediately put on my pajamas. I mean, immediately. I read some things that I haven’t read yet and I jump into bed. If my daughter has finished all of her homework at the end of the night, we’ll watch a show together, like Modern Family, which is OK for all of us, or Seinfeld. Then I’m usually asleep by 10:30 or 11."

Spade described her life as "kooky and fun," but also got candid about the challenges of being a parent and a businesswoman.

"Being a mother adds an enormous amount of stress to your life," she said. "You need to make sure you’re there for everything. We don’t have other people to do it for us -- I want to make sure I’m there. When you’re trying to be a parent and a businessperson at the same time, that is the most stressful thing you could do. I can luckily bolt out when I need to. I can’t when it’s really important, obviously, but Andy will fill in."

"If I run, I’m much healthier -- I run on a treadmill," she added of how she deals with stress. "It kind of helps me get all this stuff out. I listen to this loud music. I listen to the Rolling Stones and the Jackson 5 a lot and it makes me faster."

In 2002, when Spade was awarded a Glamour Woman of the Year Award, she shared how she wants to be remembered.

“If you’re as honest and fair as you can be, not only in business but in life, things will work out,” she said. "I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman but as a great friend -- and a heck of a lot of fun."

On Tuesday, celebrities including Mindy Kaling, Bette Midler and Lena Dunham reacted to Spade's death. The Kate Spade New York brand also paid tribute to the designer with a touching tweet.

"Kate Spade, the visionary founder of our brand, has passed," the label said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with her family at this incredibly heartbreaking time. We honor all the beauty she brought into this world."

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


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