In 2013, Tiffany & Co. celebrated Baz Luhrmann’s new film version of “The Great Gatsby” with a day of events that concluded with a Roaring ’20s-style party at the Fifth Avenue flagship. I swanned through the night in a black column dress that was accented mainly by a Kate Spade necklace of green turquoise florets. Throughout the evening, several people stopped me – this was at Tiffany’s, remember – to say what a great necklace it was.
That was the Kate Spade effect. Whether it was with a statement necklace or a book with an inspirational saying or one of her signature vibrant handbags that marked a young woman’s coming of age and defined a generation in the good-times ’90s, Spade had a way of lifting you up. That she could not do the same for herself proved to be her tragedy. This past Tuesday, June 5, Spade was found dead, an apparent suicide by hanging in her Park Avenue apartment.
Suicide always begs the question why. Spade struggled to accept the end of her 24-year marriage to her longtime business partner, Andy Spade (Page Six of the New York Post). She was afraid her mental health issues would compromise her happy-go-lucky brand (her older sister, Reta Saffo, quoted in the Kansas City Star, the sisters’ hometown paper). No one really knows, because what suicide reminds us is that no one ever completely knows anyone.
The brand she sought to protect – like the woman herself – underwent many permutations over the years. Today, Kate Spade New York is part of Coach Inc. Before her death, Spade changed her name to Kate Valentine and launched a new brand of luxury footwear and handbags, Frances Valentine, both of which were family names. (Frances is the name of the 13-year-old daughter Spade leaves behind.)
But “what’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
How right Shakespeare was. The essence remains. And Spade’s essence remains in every woman who slings a Kate Spade bag over her shoulder, picks up a Kate Spade book, dons a Kate Spade necklace or slips on a pair of strappy Kate Spade heels before she goes off confidently to seize the day.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-8255.