Kate Spade, a designer best known for her simple, colorful handbags, which became favored accessories of professional women in the 1990s, was found dead June 5 at her home in Manhattan. She was 55.
She reportedly committed suicide by hanging, police officials said. A note was found at the scene.
Ms. Spade began her career at Mademoiselle magazine, where she became, at age 28, a senior editor for accessories. Often disappointed at the selection of handbags available for fashion photo sessions, she decided to start a business and design them herself.
She began in her apartment, designing handbags with paper and Scotch tape and using her savings to buy fabrics. (Her first handbag was made of burlap, the cheapest material she could find.)
“I sat down with some tracing paper, and I knew immediately what the shape should be — a very simple square,” she told Fortune Small Business in 2003. “At the time no one was doing anything that clean. The shape gave me a real flexible canvas for applying all the ideas I had for a lot of colors, patterns, and fabrics.”
She took her initial six designs to a manufacturer in Brooklyn and showed her wares at an accessories show in 1993. She sold a few bags, but not enough to cover the cost of the booth at the exhibition hall.
Then unmarried and still known by her maiden name, Kate Brosnahan, she tried out several brand names for her new handbags before taking the advice of her boyfriend, Andy Spade.
“Andy kept saying the whole time, ‘Kate Spade, Kate Spade — listen to how it sounds,’ “ Ms. Spade told the New York Times in 1999. (They were married in 1994.)
Her second stroke of inspiration came the night before her another accessories trade show in New York.
“There was something missing,” she told the Boston Globe in 1999. “We needed something for the eye to go to.”
She stayed up most of the night, removing the small black “Kate Spade New York” labels from inside the handbags and hand-stitched them to the outside of the bags.
Her bags, often in bright colors or pastels, with simple handles and vibrantly colored linings, were picked up by Barneys and other department stores, and Ms. Spade was honored as one of the fashion world’s top designers of accessories. Her bags were featured in Vogue and other fashion magazines, and celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow were spotted carrying Kate Spade bags.