Katherine Noel Brosnahan, better known as iconic designer Kate Spade, has left a lasting impact on the world of fashion and has completely turned the role of women in leadership positions on its head. From florals to stripes to color block, her patterns are easily some of the most recognizable in the fashion industry, rivaled only by the iconography of brands like Burberry and Louboutin. However, the distinctive factor that made Kate Spade so different was not the use of flowers or even the tie into the rosy world of 1990’s New York; It was the commitment that she had to provide everyday fashion that was functional, stylish, and non-discriminate.
Kate Spade revolutionized the fashion industry because, in the years before, the world of fashion was split: high-quality fashion for the elite and low-quality cheap goods for everyone else. Through her work, Kate almost single-handedly built a sort of middle class between quality, funky designs, and palatable price; An allure that wasn’t present in the same way with other midline brands like Fossil and Coach. Over time, Kate Spade’s designs became so quintessential to the New York fashionista, that even Vogue editor Anna Wintour is quoted to say that you ‘couldn’t walk two blocks without seeing Kate Spade’. Growing up, I was attracted to the pop-like patterns that Kate put out, especially the florals. They gave off a non-traditional sort of femininity, where the owner of the piece was still flirty and sweet but had an essence of power over herself and her surroundings. The energy that her work exuded stuck out to me because I wanted that type of power and grace in my own life. I wanted to be that model who looked like she could either be going out on a date or could be going to work as a CEO all the same. Regardless, Kate Spade is a fashion rite of passage for girls everywhere.
Go around your town or city and ask your friends “what was your first purse?” No, I’m not talking about that nasty sequined handbag your mom gave you that she got from the 70’s. Not that gross pleather cross-body you wanted to get from Abercrombie or Hollister either. I mean the first REAL handbag that you saved for months to get or was given to you for your 15th birthday. Most people would probably name off a few different brands, depending on their age and what was available. However, an overwhelming majority will say with a shrug, “Kate Spade”, which is no coincidence. Kate Spade defined a generation and a half with her bags, appealing to vastly different tastes and vastly different budgets. I’ve never met a single person who didn’t like Kate Spade. I liked her fashion so much in high school, I painted my senior ceiling tile with some of her designs. Kate Spade is almost as integral to the growth of a young woman as it is to the city of New York. Though nearly thirty years have passed since its genesis, Kate Spade has and always will stay relevant to American fashion.
The tagline to her brand, "Live colorfully," captured what I think is some of the most definitive and difficult advice to give someone, especially to a young adult who didn’t exactly fit in when she was a teenager. It seems simple, just two words that we say or hear nearly every day, but the message behind it is a lot more nuanced than that. Live colorfully. Don’t let others perception of you bring you down. Live colorfully. Embrace your weird side, even if other people force a grayscale onto you. Live colorfully. Your differences matter and they set you apart. Embrace them. This sort of sincerity and defiance makes her passing all the more heartbreaking as we now have to live in a world where we understand that those who have the power and creativity to make a lasting difference, may be suffering a great deal more than we assume.
We oftentimes look at suicide from an outsider’s perspective, and a lot of times I’ll hear people gossip around about how celebrities are the last people who you’d think would be depressed. Then I see social media buzz about suicide and getting help and 1-800-273-8255 being thrown around like a cure-all for depression. While these are welcome things to see on my TL, we need to remember that fame isn’t a bubble that protects people from depression simply because they have money or an incredible body of work to claim. Depression can affect any person at any time, and the best thing we can do to help is love and speak with those around us, even if they seem fine. It can be as simple as shooting someone a text, or it can be as committed as driving hours to another city at 10 pm just to comfort a lonely friend. Chances are, if someone is genuinely depressed and contemplating suicide, a message from a friend will mean all the difference than a phone call to a hotline. Either one is effective, yes, but we know our friends best and we know how to make them happy.
Overall, Kate Spade will be sorely missed. Her legacy will live on as her being one of the most iconic fashion designers in history and a huge pioneer for women in business. I want to encourage you to reach out to those you love. Give them hugs, tell them you care for them. You never know what someone is quietly dealing with.