The Coolest Girl We Knew: Remembering Kate Spade

Kate Spade exuded wit, charm, and humor as fluidly as the bubbles in a glass of champagne. She was the height of femininity,

(Flickr Commons: Stewart Ferebee)

(Flickr Commons: Stewart Ferebee)

By Katie Curtis

Watching an old interview of Kate Spade tonight, I was struck anew by all the reasons she was so loved. She exuded wit, charm, and humor as fluidly as the bubbles in a glass of champagne. She was the height of femininity, seeming both innocent, yet sophisticated enough to climb to the heights of New York society. Buying one of her bags felt like a ticket into adulthood for so many women, and whenever she shared her style philosophy it made you feel like you were on the inside of a secret club. Her designs were a glimpse into her mind; polka dots, stripes of fuchsia and orange, purses that look like books or popsicles on the outside. So much whimsy. They were as darling as she was. 

She was the pied piper of chic, and she allowed us to have a piece of her style in our purses, our shoes, our jewelry, even our wedding china. Perhaps because she touched such personal details of our everyday lives, her death feels so personal. And because everything about her exuded a happy, carefree attitude that said ‘don’t take life too seriously’, the fact that she took her own life is such a shock. How is it that someone who on the outside seemed so happy could actually be in so much pain? How is it that the perception can be so different from the reality?

According to her sister, Spade had been battling mental illness for the last 3-4 years and self-medicating with alcohol. Spade was so aware of this happy-go-lucky persona behind her brand, that it ultimately prevented her from getting help, reports her hometown newspaper The Kansas City Star. Though her sister and husband tried to get her to enter a hospital to help her, in the end she always refused because she was afraid of what it would do to the image of Kate Spade.

(Flickr Commons: Stewart Ferebee)

(Flickr Commons: Stewart Ferebee)

If these reports are true, then it means her image was more important to her than who she actually, truly was. This is heartbreaking. Anyone who has been touched by mental illness knows that so much of the pain comes from the fact that illness distorts a person’s thinking, and they don’t see that they need help. There is so much helplessness in watching someone you love suffer when you can’t reason with them.

This may be the most surprising thing about her death – she seemed so smart. Too smart to let this kind of distorted thinking get to her. But depression and mental illness don’t follow logic or common sense. It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire or a mother or friend or son or the epitome of chic. Depression whispers lies of self-loathing, self-hatred. It whispers your life doesn’t matter. You don’t matter. In suicide, the lie wins. And its baffling when someone who is so successful lets a lie win.

From all accounts, the real Kate didn’t do this. Sick Kate did. I hope and pray that is a comfort to her daughter, to her family. Her distorted thinking is clear in her final act. She thought getting help would hurt the Kate Spade image, but suicide wouldn’t.

Mary Karr says that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We can’t know all of Kate Spade’s problems. Her death is a reminder of how vulnerable we are in this world, that even the coolest among us can get lost. But even though we are left with the permanence of her actions, an ache her family will feel forever, I suspect the brightness of her life will live on in the gift she gave to us all along. We all have pieces of her still, in our everyday lives, in our shoes and bags and china. Let’s celebrate her and use them. And say a prayer for her when we do.