Two of Kate Spade‘s former coworkers are sharing memories of their time with the late designer.
Susan Kaufman and Elizabeth Perine each worked with Spade when she was first breaking into the industry as a young assistant editor at the now defunct Mademoiselle magazine, which went out of print in 2001.
Both told PEOPLE that Spade — who they affectionally called Katy or Katy B (from her maiden name, Katherine Noel Brosnahan) — was a diligent worker with a bright spirit.
“She was unpretentious and extremely grounded — incredibly hardworking, but laughed at the drop of a dime,” Kaufman recalled. “She was always laughing. She had a sparkle in her eyes. Her personality was so much a part of her.”
Kaufman even detailed that the sweet Spade would say “That’s darling!” all the time.
“It always made me laugh because it was so old-fashioned,” she said. “It was such a Katy thing to say. She was ladylike in many ways. She was funny, quirky, witty, fun, down to earth and all those things made her special.”
Perine — now a professional organizer living in Portland, Oregon — first met Spade when she joined Mademoiselle as a temp.
“We sat next to each other,” Perine remembered of Spade, who would go on to become Mademoiselle’s accessories editor. She continued to PEOPLE, “There was something so wholesome and down to earth about her. Very Kansas. She seemed too nice to go on and become so successful. [But] looking back and connecting the dots, it all makes sense. She was so smart and so enthusiastic about life.”
Back then, Spade was dating her eventual husband, Andy — whom Kaufman said was “rising fast in the advertising world” at the time and was “a marketing genius.” The two were together for over 20 years.
“Andy would come by sometimes,” Perine said. “It was very cute that he had come from Arizona to be with her. They were a perfect couple. They complemented each other really well.”
After her time at Mademoiselle, Spade would go on to create a fashion accessories empire of her own — her iconic lifestyle line of colorful handbags, wallets, shoes, belts, sunglasses and more becoming a staple in the closets of American women everywhere.
By that point, Kaufman was at Glamour. “When she came in as a designer to show us her line, she was really excited,” Kaufman, who would go on to become an editor of Stylewatch too, said. “Nervous and excited. She worried that people wouldn’t use them or like them. But when she showed us the bags, they were fantastic. Everyone loved them and shot them. She was extremely grateful.”
RELATED VIDEO: Kate Spade’s Groundbreaking Career
Spade, herself, embodied the sophisticated yet cute, clever style her brand would come to be known for, the women told PEOPLE.
Kaufman of Spade’s style, “She always had her own quirky style and was very unique. She wore red lipstick with baggy menswear khakis. Her style mix was the same as her personality mix. She was very retro even back in the day.”
“Katy had a lot of style,” added Perine. “It was very understated. She had a preppy, classic way of dressing, but she would throw in these touches like a little vintage handbag or cute vintage shoes. She had a way with accessories. There was always something very sweet about [them]: a bow in her hair or romantic velvet mary janes. Her outfits were a kind of blank canvas and she’d put on these accessories that kind of made everything pop.”
Spade was found dead in her New York City apartment on Tuesday. She was 55.
In a statement to PEOPLE a Thursday, a spokesperson for New York’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the agency determined Spade’s cause of death to be hanging and the manner suicide.
Police said a housekeeper found Spade, who was mother to 13-year-old daughter Frances Beatrix, in the bedroom at her Park Avenue home in Manhattan. A police source confirmed to PEOPLE that Spade was alone when she died.
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years,” Spade’s husband, Andy, said in a statement to PEOPLE on Wednesday. “She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease, one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy.”
“There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”