Born December 24, 1962, in Kansas City, Missouri, Kate Spade made the move to New York City in 1986 after graduating from Arizona State University. She started out as a temporary assistant on a Mademoiselle photo shoot and eventually climbed the masthead to accessories editor, which fueled her desire to start her own business.
In 1993, she launched a small, eponymous line of handbags that, by 1996, was a $5 million business. According to a 1996 PEOPLE profile, some of Spade’s bestsellers were still designs from her first collection. “If you can’t keep wearing the things in our line,” she said, “then we feel we made a mistake.” Eary fans included Sandra Bullock, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista.
Here, the designer shows off her flagship New York City store in 1996.
Spade, pictured with one of her handbags in 1998, told InStyle in 2017 that she finds inspiration “everywhere. I don’t purposely go to certain museums of places to find inspiration,” she explained. “I actually really find it in everyday life. It’s dependent on my mood.”
“New York has had a huge influence,” she continued. “There’s a little bit of chaos that always makes fashion a little interesting, and New York definitely has that.”
Spade with fellow designer Michael Kors at a Council of Fashion Designers of America event in 2004. She was twice honored with CFDA Awards for her work in accessories, in 1996 and 1998.
Spade met her husband Andy while they were students at Arizona State University. The two married in 1994 and he served as her business partner and Kate Spade New York creative director.
In 2017, the two spoke at an AOL Build panel about the joys of working together.
“We share the same aesthetic and we like the same things,” Andy said. “She happens to be very very detail oriented, and I happen to think more conceptually, in ideas. It’s almost like someone is setting up a volleyball and Kate will come up and make sure all the details work. It’s a team.”
In 2016, she told New York that she and Andy still made time to have dinner together every night.
The Spades had a daughter Frances, born in February 2005. After Spade left her namesake company following its sale in 2006, she took time off to raise her daughter. “I needed a break. People asked me, ‘Don’t you miss it?’ I really didn’t,” she told PEOPLE in 2016. “I mean, I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might.”
“I was so removed,” she continued. “I didn’t read magazines. I got involved with my daughter’s school, playdates, baking. It all sounds a little corny, but it wasn’t. It was stepping back and not paying attention, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
The designer with brother-in-law David Spade at a Los Angeles gallery in 2006. In a 2015 PEOPLE interview about his memoir, Almost Interesting, David said people often asked him about his brother Andy and Kate.
“That’s interesting to people,” he said. “If I had their money, I’d throw mine away.”
On her side, Kate was also proud aunt to actress Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
“I am beside myself,” Kate told Page Six in January when Brosnahan won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy. “My daughter and I jumped up and down when she won. She deserves this recognition, as she’s put her heart and soul into the role. We are insanely proud.”
For her part, the actress told WWD in 2017 that she was often told she “inherited little pieces of Katie’s style. For example, I love a good shoe and a good bag, and I know that she was largely influenced by my grandmother, her mother, June. Who actually, fun fact, [my character] Midge is slightly inspired by.”
Following her retreat from the fashion world, Kate emerged again in 2016 with the new accessories line, Frances Valentine. She even changed her name to Kate Valentine Spade to complement the brand.
“I thought it was important to distinguish who I am now,” she told PEOPLE. “I’m the same person, but there’s a difference.”
“Coming back was a little slower than I did it the first time, I must say,” Kate, here in 2008, told AOL in a 2017 chat. “But I enjoy it, but on a different level. I put it kind of in its own little space compared to before, it was like, the only space. And now I have to put it aside and say, ‘Well you’re here, my family’s here, and I have to divide my time.’ Which is actually easy to do despite what people think.”
“My life is a little kooky but a lot of fun,” is how Kate closed her 2016 interview with New York. Sadly, the designer was found dead of an apparent suicide on June 5, 2018, in her New York City home. She was 55.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.