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June 05, 2018 04:04 PM

The sudden death of Kate Spade has come as a shock to those who knew her.

“This is shocking,” Spade’s professional friend and fashion tastemaker Fern Mallis, tells PEOPLE. “This is completely shocking and seems so out of character.”

Spade, 55, was found dead in her New York City apartment of an apparent suicide, PEOPLE confirmed. Police say she was found hanging from a red scarf Tuesday morning in her bedroom at her Park Avenue home. The scarf had reportedly been tied to her door.

Mallis, the former executive director of the CFDA, first met Spade in the early ’90s, when the fashion designer’s now iconic brand was first taking off.

“Her collection was one of the most popular and brilliant and successful accessory businesses,” she says. “Especially her tote bags, you just had to have it — everyone had to have it. They were at a price point that nobody else was doing.”

Kate Spade and Fern Mallis
Mark Sagliocco/Getty; Michael Loccisano/Getty

And Mallis says Spade’s vibrant personality matched her colorful handbags.

“She was as adorable as her accessories were,” she says. “She was always dressed fun and was always perky. She was very spirited. She was just a delight.”

RELATED: Kate Spade, 55, Found Dead in N.Y.C. Apartment from Apparent Suicide

While Mallis couldn’t recall the last time she spoke to Spade, she said she would often run into the designer and her husband Andy Spade at fashion events.

“They were very much part in the front lane of the fashion universe. They seemed to be a perfect couple, very happy together,” she said. “They were well suited for one another. My heart just goes out to Andy and their daughter.”

Andy and Kate Spade
Scott Gries/Getty

Spade and her husband founded Kate Spade New York in 1993, and turned the line into a hit with its iconic, colorful hangbag range. Eventually, Kate Spade New York expanded into other accessories and clothing, ultimately turning into a billion-dollar brand. Spade sold her ownership stake in her company in 2007, to focus on raising her only child, daughter Frances.

“I needed a break and I really wanted to raise my daughter,” Spade told PEOPLE during an at-home interview in 2016. “People asked me, ‘Don’t you miss it?’ I really didn’t. I mean, I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might.”

Tapestry, Inc. bought Kate Spade in July 2017 for $2.4 billion.

“It didn’t seem like the brand, from our perspective, was financially destitute and needed to make a deal,” Mallis recalls of the sale. “But like with a lot of big businesses and when they sell, it changes people’s personalities. They’re not the face of their name anymore. That’s always I think difficult for people. She became less visible to people.”

In September 2016, Spade launched a new accessories brand, Frances Valentine, and legally changed her name to Kate Valentine Spade to match her new label.

“I thought it was important to distinguish who I am now,” she told PEOPLE at the time. “I’m the same person, but there’s a difference.”

Spade is survived by her husband of 24 years and her 13-year-old daughter, Frances.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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