New York (CNN)Kate Brosnahan Spade, who created an iconic, accessible handbag line that bridged Main Street and high-end fashion, hanged herself in an apparent suicide Tuesday at her Manhattan apartment, according to New York Police Department sources.
The designer, 55, started Kate Spade New York in 1993 and opened her first shop in the city three years later, the company’s website states.
“Debuting with just six silhouettes, she combined sleek, utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes in an entirely new way,” the site says.
Best known for its colorful handbags, Kate Spade New York has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the United States and more than 175 stores internationally, the site states.
Over time, she distanced herself from her business.
In 1999, she and her husband, Andy Spade, sold 56% of the brand to Neiman Marcus for $33.6 million. Liz Claiborne acquired the company in 2007, and Spade left her namesake brand. The luxury fashion company Coach announced plans in May 2017 to buy Kate Spade for $2.4 billion.
Kate Spade New York issued a statement confirming the “incredibly sad news” of their eponymous founder’s death.
“Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand,” the statement said. “Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time.”
“We honor all the beauty she brought into this world,” the company said in a tweet.
“Everyone remembers their first Kate Spade,” CNN White House reporter and former fashion editor Kate Bennett said. “(The brand) became one of those accessible but quirky fun, timeless labels that everyone had to have, and her rise was synonymous with her name.”
For many women, a Kate Spade handbag functioned as a symbol of professional achievement.
“She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories,” the statement said.
Cindi Leive, a former editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine, said that part of Spade’s legacy is that she put her entire personality into her work.
“She understood that women are going to respond to things that feel like they’re made by a human, that they are expressing someone’s personality,” Leive said.
“If you put a pulse into it and every fiber of your being, people are going to respond. Now, that’s kind of a given. Everybody wants to create their own personal lifestyle brand,” she added. “But that was new at the time, and in a lot of ways, the contemporary version of it really came from her.”
“So, Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant,” Kate Spade said, “and he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don’t start a handbag company. And he said, why not? How hard can it be? (Laughter) I thought, OK, really? He regrets those words.”
The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. It’s now the 10th leading cause of death in the country, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller’s ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.
Joe Zee, a fashion journalist who had worked with Spade, recalled her telling him of the vision to start the handbag line.
“This wasn’t something women did or just anyone really did back then in the early ’90s,” he told CNN. “And to quit a coveted magazine editor’s job to really be able to do that … it was so visionary and so ahead of its time.”
“She always had such a great ray of light about her. She was so jovial,” Zee said.
Spade’s apparent suicide comes as suicide rates in the United States increased from 1999 to 2014 for everyone between the ages of 10 and 74, according to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For white women, the suicide rate increased by 60% during that period, the study found.