Designer Kate Spade’s death renews conversation about mental health awareness

Designer Kate Spade is shown at her Beverly Hills-area boutique in 1998.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The death of Kate Spade has renewed discussions of mental health awareness, with celebrities mourning the fashion designer’s death with missives about depression and suicide prevention.

Spade, whose colorful handbags, bold prints and cheerful sayings once dominated American fashion, was found dead on Tuesday in her New York apartment in an apparent suicide, according to the Associated Press.

A former accessories editor at the now-defunct magazine Mademoiselle, Spade founded her fashion label in 1993 with her husband, Andy, who was involved with his own fashion label, Jack Spade, and now has the branding venture, Partners & Spade.


The late designer was no longer involved with the Kate Spade label, but the brand, which is now owned by Coach’s parent company Tapestry, confirmed her death on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, saying that the “visionary founder of our brand has passed” and honored “all the beauty she brought into this world.”

Though no official reports said that Spade suffered from mental illness, Twitter users quickly jumped in the fray to says that depression “does not discriminate” and is a “life-threatening illness, just like heart disease, cancer, or sepsis.”

“There should be no stigma about mental health—only treatment, awareness, and compassion,” tweeted surgeon and columnist Eugene Gu.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and on average just under 45,000 Americans die by suicide.

The AFSP offered condolences to the Spade family and the designer’s creative network, in a statement on Tuesday.


“There is never a single cause for suicide,” it noted. “Suicide is the result of many factors that come together such as an underlying mental health condition, life stressors, and access to lethal means. We must do more to prevent such tragic deaths through greater awareness of mental health, common risks and warning signs, and effective interventions and treatments.”

Actress Rosie Perez, who was featured in the brand’s #MissAdventure ad campaign last year, also called for an end to the stigma.

Singer Josh Groban and White House advisor Ivanka Trump, a fashion designer herself, tweeted about depression’s silent effects.

Other influencers discussed the designer’s impact on their wardrobes. The former fashion editor started Kate Spade Handbags in 1993, which launched into a clothing and jewelry empire before the fashion label was sold by Neiman Marcus Group in 2006 to a company then called Liz Claiborne Inc.

With her business partners, Spade began another brand called Frances Valentine, named after her 13-year-old daughter and other family members, in 2016. That year she also announced she had changed her name to Kate Valentine in an attempt to distinguish herself from her namesake label.

But many, including former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and actress Beth Behrs, recalled receiving their first Kate Spade handbags and other high-end pieces.

Within the fashion sphere, Council of Fashion Designers of America Chief Executive Steven Kolb and designer and CFDA Board Chairman Diane von Furstenberg issued a joint statement on Tuesday on behalf of the CFDA.

“The CFDA is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague and CFDA member Kate Spade’s tragic passing,” they said. “She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories. We want to honor her life and her major contribution to the fashion business and express our most sincere condolences to the family.”

The designer and the label she founded were connected to Hollywood, though few immediately commented on her passing.

Spade’s brother-in-law is comedian David Spade and her niece is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Rachel Brosnahan, who did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for comment.

Actresses Anna Faris, Anna Kendrick, Zosia Mamet and Lily Tomlin have also starred in the fashion label’s #MissAdventure ad campaigns, while Laura Dern, Tavi Gevinson and Sasheer Zamata appeared in the brand’s “In Full Bloom” fragrance campaign earlier this year.