The question that hovers over Kate Spade's bright life

Writers who cover fashion and culture were delighted in 2016, when -- just 10 years after selling her namesake brand ...

Posted: Jun 6, 2018 1:03 PM
Updated: Jun 6, 2018 1:03 PM

Writers who cover fashion and culture were delighted in 2016, when -- just 10 years after selling her namesake brand to Liz Claiborne Inc. in 2006, and then leaving the industry -- the designer Kate Spade popped back onto the fashion scene with Frances Valentine, a new accessories line with a slightly more sophisticated veneer. We had missed her.

In an interview for an article at the time, I asked her how tough it might be, after designing for one brand for so long -- a brand so indelibly associated with her -- to change one's approach and design with a different aesthetic in mind. I mean, really, how do you do that?

"I don't know that I'm necessarily coming at it from a different approach, as I am clearly the same person," she said in an e-mail. "I feel like my aesthetic has evolved -- (but) I still love the unexpected."

The hope and promise of her words is heartbreakingly poignant: the popular accessories designer died Tuesday in an apparent suicide. Police say she hanged herself with a scarf.

There will be countless stories in coming days about her legacy in the fashion industry, how she rose from obscurity in the early 1990s, creating a line of handbags and other accessories with her husband, Andy Spade, clever pieces notable for their colorful, quirky aesthetic. And, of course, there'll be the endless tweets asking, "Why?" Why would someone -- a successful designer and businesswoman, no less -- who'd achieved fame and fortune in the creative pursuits she loved, ever, EVER feel so hopeless?

We asked it with other designers who've died by their own hand in recent years -- Alexander McQueen in 2010, L'Wren Scott in 2014. The answers, of course, are never clear, or satisfying. I remember being at New York Fashion Week when the news of McQueen's death hit, and a strange pall falling over the tents (then at Bryant Park). Normally smooth-talking designers and retail execs, with their perfect coifs and vicuna-trimmed rolodexes, were left stumbling for words.

It was like this again Tuesday. Kate Spade was only 55.

She took the fashion world by surprise some 20 years ago, achieving a somewhat unexpected and unpredictable success with her designs at a time when the fashion industry was changing. And now, as the fashion world seems on the brink of change once again, she leaves in the same way.

We did not meet in person, but like many I found her rise in the fashion biz to be inspiring, perhaps because we both started off at Cond- Nast around the same time, slipping into the heady publishing empire via temp jobs.

Back then, at Cond-'s old, rather unpretentious digs on Madison Avenue, one could make a game of guessing who'd get off on which floor. The lanky too-tall-too-thin types inevitably exiting on Vogue's floor, the fresh-faced women in leggings headed to Self, and so on.

But the Mademoiselle staffers -- Spade among them -- were the wild cards, generally young, fast-talking, slightly too loud. And hard to categorize. Spade spent five years there as accessories editor, leaving to pursue her own brand of bags, which themselves could've gotten off on the same floor -- they exuded a cheeky, youthful vibe, exchanging the frou-frou adornments of major designer purses at the time for solid, retro, boxy shapes and bold notice-me colors.

And her timing was perfect.

In the 1990s and early aughts, having an "It Bag" became a thing and those "Sex and the City" gals spent episodes swooning over Birkins. But Spade's take on a bag was not nearly so serious. And not (quite) as pricey. Hers were "it" bags with a lower-case "i" -- like her all-lower-case logo -- offering a coveted rite of passage for a generation of younger women who loved the bags as much as the subtle message: that fashion was what you make of it.

This was back when Donna Karan was finding success with her lower-priced DKNY line and Calvin Klein was first flirting with unisex fragrances. Consumers seemed to have a more chill and inclusive attitude -- they even started expecting value for their money -- and fashion brands that once relied on a vaunted exclusivity were having to rethink.

Upstarts like Spade had a lot to do with that. Lifestyle brands (hers was arguably one of the first) are now standard across the fashion landscape. But she wound up getting out of the biz in 2007, leaving her namesake label one year after Liz Claiborne Inc. bought it for $124 million.

That was before the onslaught of digital media, the power of YouTubers and Instagrammers, and a revolution in how shoppers shop that has retail and media execs now pondering how much longer established fixtures like Cond- Nast, shopping malls, even Fashion Week itself, can survive.

Which is what made her return to the fashion world two years ago so exciting. Alas, that new brand of hers, Frances Valentine, a combination of family names (including her daughter, Frances), hasn't quite flourished in the way she no doubt hoped it would. Perhaps this was part of the woe and worry that led her to leave us. We just don't know.

And so we go back to missing Kate Spade. And wishing, as fashion changes once more, that she could've helped lead the way.

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 46°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 55°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 51°
Decatur
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 52°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 44°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 685321

Reported Deaths: 8391
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby761671128
Davidson70706661
Knox38646393
Hamilton34556326
Rutherford33114283
Unassigned22759126
Williamson21364138
Sumner18205230
Out of TN1612079
Wilson14405155
Montgomery14367149
Sullivan12577211
Washington11889191
Blount11887124
Maury10941123
Bradley1075190
Sevier10461108
Putnam9931136
Madison9099178
Robertson761885
Hamblen6954109
Anderson6759102
Greene6569108
Tipton619065
Gibson5630111
Coffee560681
Cumberland537872
Dickson534678
Bedford532086
Roane519179
Carter5091112
Lawrence507569
McMinn506673
Warren497553
Loudon493750
Jefferson474975
Dyer473682
Monroe455162
Hawkins444968
Franklin410758
Obion399478
Fayette396251
Rhea381556
Lincoln378344
Marshall343536
Cocke342856
Weakley339448
Cheatham335230
Henderson332056
Campbell323940
Giles321071
White310043
Hardeman308752
Carroll307859
Hardin297647
Lauderdale293131
Macon287350
Wayne260719
Henry260358
Overton252942
DeKalb241741
Haywood239745
McNairy238142
Smith230527
Trousdale228714
Marion227731
Scott225231
Hickman222734
Fentress212531
Claiborne210129
Grainger208135
Johnson201532
Morgan188614
Crockett180338
Bledsoe174110
Chester173237
Unicoi166843
Cannon157019
Lake155319
Decatur147226
Polk142817
Grundy139320
Union138721
Sequatchie136518
Humphreys132617
Benton131935
Lewis127220
Meigs114016
Stewart105220
Jackson103721
Perry94725
Houston93922
Clay93726
Moore7959
Pickett67619
Van Buren6587
Hancock4026

Community Events