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Goodbye, Kate Spade

My sister texted me yesterday morning about the untimely death of Kate Spade and I felt a deep pang of shock. No – how could it be? I sat and cried last night — I loved her work so much. I grieve the way she left the world, that she felt so hopeless to have made such a terrible decision.  

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It was 1996 when I first stumbled on Kate Spade’s nylon bags. In the aftermath of the excessive 80s, her signature minimalist style was a breath of fresh air. And to a high school student surrounded by plenty of Pappagallo, Dooney & Bourke and the like, there was something magnetic about those simplistic, boxy purses that felt different in the best way possible. It felt expressive of exactly who I wanted to be.

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I liked to think of myself as a minimalist in the 90s and I expressed this in — appropriately? — small ways. Things like carrying a tiny handbag with only the barest of necessities. Mom bought that first bag for me, and I loved it mightily, carrying it like a clutch everywhere I went.

Over the years, I’ve carried many Kate Spade bags and worn many a sparkly Kate Spade shoe. My first big purchase at my first real job after college was a pair of gold leather Kate Spade flats with the most beautiful crystal embellishment I’d ever seen. I wore them into the ground over several years — the soles were paper thin by the time I finally retired them. With both my babies, I had Kate Spade diaper bags. The Kate Spade look felt perfectly expressive of who I was, both as a new designer and then later as a new mom. Nobody else designed such classic and beautiful items that were also affordable and full of personality.

Even long after the brand changed hands from Kate herself to corporate ownership, I continued my ongoing love affair. The foundation that she herself had laid of cheerful, cheeky style with a vintage twist was visible even as the brand continued to grow into areas that I’m sure she had only dreamed of.  The Kate Spade brand has inspired so much of Pencil Shavings’ look over the years, especially when I was designing products for my shop.

Last year I listened to an interview with Kate and Andy about the path her career had taken. How in the beginning they ran everything out of their apartment, and would furnish booths at market with the furniture from their own home. I smiled to myself – I’ve done all those things too!   It felt so real, so approachable – like they were just cool, normal people doing really incredibly creative things. Things I myself want to do in my own creative career.

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Last night I talked with Jude about Kate Spade as we left the community pool where a couple friends had mentioned Kate Spade’s death earlier in the day. A savvy shopper himself, he recognizes the brand name and knew that I loved going through the stores when we’d travel.  Jude couldn’t believe that she would choose to take her own life. I still can’t either. We talked about how she died because she was feeling sad and hopeless. And how important it is to always let your feelings out — especially the hard feelings — to people who you love and trust, people who are safe with those emotions.  Sadness and anger always finds a way to get out, no matter how deeply it’s buried. And it’s all the harder to deal with later.  I’ve seen it firsthand in my own life.

We had a really good conversation about sadness that evening, and it reinforced to me that perhaps THIS will be the greater legacy of Kate. The conversation about mental health HAS TO HAPPEN in order to move the needle. This talking about hard things even though everything can look super pretty on the outside.  The reminder that even though everything can look one way on the outside, oftentimes it’s an entirely different story on the insides. Sadness can coexist with happiness; hard times can come, but they can be overcome.  Culturally we’re trained to avoid all mention of anything but happy happy happy(!), but the fact is that depression can happen to anybody, anytime. It’s a liar and a soul-sucker, but it is BEATABLE.

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I never knew Kate Spade. But if I could tell her something, I’d say thank you. Thank you for bringing your distinct, colorful style to the world. Thank you for showing a girl  in the middle of Oklahoma that she could do something different and stand out from the crowd in the best way possible.   Thank you for all those beautiful shoes, and iconic handbags, and inspiration.

If you struggle with depression and need urgent help, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help is there and you are not alone!   I too have struggled with my fair share of anxiety and depression — don’t hesitate to get help.

This, too, shall pass.

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  • JamieSplendry

    Yes, to all of this. I too was the girl in high school pining after Kate Spade while my friends carried their D&B. When I finally bought my first bag I was equal parts terrified and thrilled. It was the most expensive purchase I had made at that point and I was hoping I wouldn’t regret it. I never have!

    I never felt like I fit in with the current styles among my friends (I also live in central Oklahoma) and the Kate Spade brand was something that inspired my creativity in how I dressed. Oh, how I loved visiting her stores and dreaming about my “grownup wardrobe” one day.

    • I could not agree more. She really nailed the whole happy aspirational lifestyle. It’s so terrible that she’s gone.