By JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH, VANESSA FRIEDMAN and MATTHEW SCHNEIER
NEW YORK – American designer Kate Spade was found dead Tuesday, according to police officials.
Police said that Spade, 55, was discovered unresponsive at a Park Avenue apartment, where she had hanged herself. She had left a note, but the official did not comment on what it said. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:26 a.m.
A housekeeper found Spade in her bedroom hanging from a red scarf tied to a doorknob, police said. She was unconscious and the housekeeper called 911.
Spade’s husband was at the scene. A police spokesman did not know the whereabouts of Spade’s daughter.
Born Kate Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, in December 1962, Spade was one of the first of a powerful wave of female American contemporary designers in the 1990s.
She built a brand on the appeal of clothes and accessories that made women smile, her cheerful lack of restraint and bright prints striking a chord with consumers. She herself was the embodiment of her aesthetic, with her proto-1960s bouffant, nerd glasses and kooky grin, which masked a business mind that saw the opportunities in becoming a lifestyle brand, almost before the term officially existed.
Spade, who had been the accessories editor of Mademoiselle magazine, founded Kate Spade with her husband-to-be, Andy, in 1993. Frustrated with the handbags of the era, which she found to be over-accessorized, she had wanted “a functional bag that was sophisticated and had some style,” she told The New York Times in 1999.
She did not know what to call the company at first and decided to make it a combination of the names of the co-founders. After the first show, she realized that the bags needed a little something extra to catch people’s eyes. She took the label, which originally had been on the inside of the bag, and sewed it to the outside. With that gesture, she created a brand identity and her empire.
Within a few years, she had opened a SoHo shop and was collecting industry awards, her name a shorthand for the cute, clever bags that were an instant hit with career women and, later, young girls, status symbols of a more attainable, all-American sort than a Fendi clutch or Chanel bag.
In 1999, the Spades sold the business to Neiman Marcus Group, which sold it to Liz Claiborne Inc. in 2006. Spade became the very visible face of her brand.
The Spades left Kate Spade in 2007 and devoted themselves to other projects. Spade dedicated herself to her family and to philanthropy, and in 2016, with her husband and two friends, launched a new venture, an accessories label called Frances Valentine. She was so committed to the project that she told interviewers she had changed her surname from Spade to Valentine.