The untold truth of Kate Spade

On June 5, 2018, celebrated handbag designer Kate Spade was found dead in her New York City apartment. Spade, who had been a staple of accessory fashion since the mid-1990s, was referred to as a "visionary" by the namesake company she founded and helmed until her 2007 departure. After all, Spade grew her famous brand from a off-handed idea born at a tiny Mexican restaurant to a full-fledged fashion empire. 

Spade's story sounds like the plot of a movie — a fact which she was well-aware. In a NPR interview with Guy Raz, Spade recounted how she took her daughter into a Kate Spade store to make a purchase. At the register, the cashier asked Spade for her name so that she could be added to the mailing list — the fashion mogul responded with her maiden name, Brosnahan. Spade joked with Raz, saying that story was "the end scene of [her] movie." But the beginning of Spade's movie would be even more interesting. Here's the untold truth of Kate Spade. 

She remained a Kansas City girl throughout her career

She created one of the most recognizable handbags and accessories brands in the world, but Kate Spade never forgot her humble beginnings as a Kansas City, Missouri girl. Born Katherine Noel Brosnahan on Christmas Eve, 1962, Spade didn't grow up with aspirations to be a world-famous designer. To the contrary, Spade told The Boston Globe, "When I was a kid, I didn't even know Chanel. I would have called it Channel." 

The daughter of a construction business owner and a housewife, Spade enjoyed a simple childhood running around in overalls and sifting through her mother's jewelry box for fun. And even after she achieved a massive amount of fame and success in her 30s, Spade never lost touch with where she came from. 

Rene Bollier, president of Andre's Confiserie Suisse — a Kansas City business Spade reportedly frequented during trips to her hometown — recalled a particular time in which a young clerk complimented Spade on her handbag, not recognizing the designer. Spade simply thanked her. "Kate was always so extremely kind when she came in," Bollier said.

Fashion brought Spade and her husband together

Kate Spade may have never considered herself a fashionista early in life, but it was the exact industry that seemed so foreign to her that would bring Spade together with the man who would go on to be her husband and first business partner. 

In a 2017 interview with How I Built This with Guy Raz, Spade and her husband Andy Spade dished the details of their first meeting, when the two soon-to-be fashion designers were just college kids. Kate had recently moved to Arizona to study journalism at Arizona State University and was working in the women's department of a clothing store. Andy worked in the men's department. 

"One day, his car broke down," Kate told Raz. "He asked me for a ride home. And we really started off as really great friends." Continued Andy, "And the car continued to break down, so I think it nurtured our relationship along."

Spade started as an assistant

Kate Spade almost certainly employed more than a few assistants throughout her illustrious career. Lucky for them, their boss never forgot her own experience as an assistant at one of the most powerful mass media companies in the world — Conde Nast.

Conde Nast is responsible for publications such as Vogue, Allure, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, just to name a few. Spade joined the publishing giant as an assistant after graduating from college. "They didn't want to [hire me] because I couldn't type," Spade told Guy Raz, recalling how the temp agency she was working for at the time fired her one day, only to call her up the next day when Conde Nast inquired about an assistant. Luckily, typing wasn't exactly a necessary skill for the position. Instead, Spade found herself tying models' shoes and getting snacks for stylists. "It was a lot of work — I'll say that," said Spade.

It all started in a Mexican restaurant

The garage origin story is a staple amongst successful, entrepreneurial-driven businesses. Microsoft, Mattel, Apple, Amazon, and even Google were started in garages. However, in the case of Kate Spade, a tiny New York City Mexican restaurant is where the idea for her wildly popular handbags brand was born. 

Spade recounted the story to Guy Raz during an interview with her husband, Andy — recalling how, fed up with her day-to-day as a senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle magazine, she yearned for something different. The next practical move would be for Spade to be promoted to a fashion director at a magazine — a job Spade simply didn't envision herself wanting.

"Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant. [...] And he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don't start a handbag company," Spade recalled to Raz. "And he said, why not? How hard can it be? He regrets those words," she said, laughing. 

Kate Spade wasn't an instantaneous success

Don't be fooled — while Kate and Andy spade grew their little handbag company from a few prototypes to an empire, the story of Kate Spade is not that of an overnight success. After spending about a year sketching out designs, utilizing Yellow Pages to source material, and having their initial handbags manufactured, the next step was for Kate and Andy to take their creations to a trade show. 

Since they were rookies, the designers recalled ending up with the worst spot at their first trade show in New York City. However, the two managed to score the interest of two of the most popular retail stores in America — Barney's and Fred Segal. Despite this, Spade recalled that she wanted to throw in the towel. "[We'd] already spent $4,000. I'm not a gambler," Spade told Raz. But Andy pushed her to keep going — and the rest, as they say, is handbag history. 

She ditched her famous moniker in 2016

In 2016, Kate Spade made headlines when she ditched her well-known last name for something different. And though she and her husband Andy Spade were reportedly experiencing marital troubles toward the end of the famous designer's life, said struggles are said to have played no part in the fashion mogul's decision to ditch her famous moniker.

According to a 2018 Newsweek report, Spade desired to separate her personal life from her professional life — a feat that is very nearly impossible when you share a name with your handbag empire. After leaving the Kate Spade brand fully in 2007, the fashion mogul disappeared from the spotlight for a while to focus on raising her daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade, born in February 2005. When Spade reemerged in January 2016, she announced the launch of her new fashion venture, Frances Valentine — named to honor both her only child and an old family moniker. With the announcement of her new venture, the designer also announced her new name — Kate Valentine. 

She has some famous family members

As the founder and designer of one of the most celebrated and successful handbags and accessories companies in the fashion industry, Kate Spade was undoubtedly a celebrity in her own right. And while she might have been the most well-known fashion designer in her family, Spade was far from the only famous name. 

First and foremost, you may recognize Spade's last name as the last name of one of your favorite Saturday Night Live veterans — David Spade. That's because David Spade is the younger brother of Kate's husband, Andy Spade — who also served as founder and partner in the Kate Spade brand. Furthermore, Spade's maiden name, Brosnahan, may sound familiar, too — especially if you're a fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the hit Amazon series from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Spade's niece, Rachel Brosnahan, is the titular star as the show. 

After her aunt's untimely death, Brosnahan took to Instagram to share a sweet video of Spade from happier times. "Hug your loved ones extra tight today," the star captioned the photo. 

Celebrities and fans alike mourned Spade on social media

The news of Spade's June 2018 death spread like wildfire on social media. After all, Spade was young, a doting mother, in otherwise good health, and thought to be one-half of a happy, successful marriage. Any personal struggles of Spade's seemed to be unbeknownst to her inner circle of close friends, family, and colleagues, as well as fans and patrons of the namesake brand she pulled up by the bootstraps. Friends, family, and celerity fans of Spade's took to social media to express their admiration of the fashion mogul, as well as their condolences to those who loved and knew her best.

"My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college," Chelsea Clinton wrote on Twitter. "I still have it. Holding Kate's family, friends, and loved ones in my heart." Kate Spade New York, the brand Spade started in the early '90s, also expressed grief over the loss of its beloved "visionary founder." The company's Twitter account posted: "We honor all the beauty she brought into this world." 

Her death was untimely and unexpected

On June 5, 2018, it was reported by multiple news outlets that Kate Spade, the famous designer behind the wildly popular brand of the same name, had been found dead in her New York City apartment on Park Avenue. The designer, who was only 55-years-old, was otherwise thought to be in good health — so the news of her death was shocking, to say the least. Even more shocking were the reports of how exactly she died — suicide by hanging. 

Reports from CNN state that the NYPD responded to Spade's apartment a little after ten o'clock on Tuesday morning after a housekeeper called to report finding the fashion mogul unresponsive. Spade was announced dead at scene. According to the NYPD, a note was found at the scene of Spade's death, which appears to address both her beloved daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade (Bea), and the designer's husband of over 20 years, Andy Spade.