When the WD team and I heard the news of Kate Spade’s passing we were all a little shocked and rattled. It has taken me a full week to be able to put pen to paper and untangle my own understanding of the life and death of one of the biggest inspirations of my life. In fact, I’ve kept the Kate Spade Brand Book on my desk for the better part of a decade, even as I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on revisions. She is single-handedly, the most important figure in my professional career.
I am most certainly not alone. Just about every woman has been touched by the life and designs of Kate. Her cheerful optimism seems to shine through in everything she did. And the people that knew her best often said that just like her designs, she too was a bright light in their lives. Full of personality and wit, she was said to be whip-smart and hilarious, and insanely quick on her feet. Kate’s designs were charming and colorful yet somehow entirely classic; stitched together with great materials that were meant to last; she never aimed to connect with trends, but more so, speak directly to the people; evoking feelings of happiness and warmth just as your favorite prized possession might do for you. That’s what made her styles so timeless. When you reach in your closet and dust off your first Kate Spade purse from college it’s like reuniting with an old friend. I think everyone remembers their first Kate Spade purse. At least I do. It’s a memorable moment in time, a purchase that denotes a milestone into young adulthood, and a rite of passage for most women. Kate taught us that feminity and authenticity are valuable and worth noting while at other times society seems to tell us otherwise. She fully celebrated women. Her colorful designs have always made me smile and served as a huge inspiration to my life and work.
Underneath that emotional tug we all feel towards Kate and the brand she built, is a more complicated reckoning: the stark contrast between such a colorful public persona and the darkness she faced daily. While we’ve lost our living link to the values Kate embedded into the Kate Spade brand, I do believe much of what we are learning about Kate’s battle with depression and anxiety is intertwined with the public persona we’ve come to admire so dearly. In fact, her death only sheds a truer light on the authenticity woven into the fabric of the brand.
I can only assume that so much of the Kate Spade brand— what we all have been talking about this past week— came from a deep understanding of what it means to be human. The highs, the lows, the beauty, the darkness.
It is possible her authenticity came from understanding how unachievable perfection truly is.
It is possible her empathy came from understanding what it means to suffer.
It is possible her groundedness came from understanding what it is like to hover at rock bottom.
It is possible her tenacity came from living day by day.
It is possible she strove to make an accessible fashion brand (totally unheard of in the early 90s) because she felt we all deserve to feel as special and as beautiful as we all uniquely are.
What is certain? She suffered— greatly. She didn’t commit suicide. She died by suicide, just as someone would die by any other disease or cancer. It is important to not only celebrate her life, but to try and understand her death in a way that changes the dialogue around what it means to create a persona and be a person.
I certainly will be feeling the loss of Kate for a long time. She was a constant reminder of what is possible for a woman with a plan. It was a stark reminder of my own mental health struggles, and now, when I read her brand book, I will still be inspired by her zest for life, but I will also be reminded to take it one day at a time. I will remember to mother myself. And I will remember that even though I live with depression, I have a care plan and a support system.
We can honor the life of Kate Spade and we can continue to live by the values she inspired in us.
So, my tribute to Kate would be to continue to write “her” story.
She knew darkness and she knew happiness.
She knew pain and she knew suffering.
She had great years filled with very, very bad days.
And on the bad ones, she did the best she could,
because she knew tomorrow
would be a new day.
Thank you for life and all the lessons you’ve taught us, Kate. We’ll make sure to keep our heads in the clouds and our feet on the ground.
Images 1-3 Kate Spade Brand Book / 4