Trigger warning: The below includes mentions of suicide.
It took me a few days to gather my words about Kate Spade. I ended up writing the below Thursday night, before news broke about the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain, who died of apparent suicide. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, there are 121 suicides in the United States every single day. If you are feeling alone, lost or hopeless, know that you are not. You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
There is a larger conversation we intend to have on Man Repeller in regards to the current state of mental health, but for now, a few words on Kate Spade’s admirable legacy.
I met Kate Spade once, at a coffee shop. Our interaction was short — about five minutes long, and even still it stamped a lasting impression on me. She was funny and gracious and as a result, I felt comforted, as I so often am when I meet people who are not only uniquely successful, but kind.
I heard about her death on the subway. My seat mates got a push notification to their phone before mine found service, and as I strained my ears to listen for more information, my stop arrived. The doors opened and I had to run; late to a meeting.
By the time it ended, a good two hours later, the Instagram tributes in honor of her legacy were live. The New York Times and Business of Fashion published Kate Spade’s obituary. It was real, and it wasn’t, which is still the only way I know how to describe death, whether or not I knew the person.
While collecting my thoughts (Would I write something; What would I say?), I read the words of others: Aya Kanai’s recollection of Kate Spade’s celebrity status in Japan; Vanessa Friedman’s musings on why Kate Spade felt like a friend; Robin Givhan’s description of the Kate Spade brand’s official 90s emergence as “an antithesis to pessimism [and] self-conscious ennui.”
Next to the memorials sat the police report that Kate Spade’s cause of death was an apparent suicide. With that came unfortunate tabloid gossip. But mostly, the adjacent reactions read as an outpouring of empathy as people shared their own mental health struggles and provided suicide prevention hotlines (1-800-273-8255). The Times’ website published a collection of their readers’ replies; The Los Angeles Times published celebrity responses. The overarching sentiment: These kinds of mental health struggles aren’t relegated to any one type of person; you are not alone; here is how to get help.
And then alongside those messages: even more celebrations of Kate Spade’s life and her former brand — various anecdotes about the bags, specifically, associated with her household name.
I suppose it’s funny to talk about a bag in the wake of a tragic death. At the end of the day, a bag, no matter how “it,” is just leather or fabric. An eponymous brand name — this one more than a decade detached from Kate Spade’s ownership — is just a brand name, not an actual person. Fashion, we know, is designed to get emotional responses out of us, but so often these emotions center in daydreams of who we could be if only we owned that thing. But Kate Spade bags felt bigger than that.
They promised women all sorts of things, yes: ladylike elegance; an official emergence into adulthood; proof of style and taste; a life more seemingly put-together. Yet from The Atlantic to The Cut, the consensus among tenured fashion writers is that the whimsical, aspirational brand Kate Spade made was a welcoming one, loved by a multitude of women — a fact that becomes apparent the moment you begin to pay attention to who’s carrying Kate Spade bags, new and vintage: everyone. In a time when fashion can often feel flighty and unfeeling, what a legacy to leave behind.
When I think of Kate Spade bags, I think of my daily commute, the women I pass and the way these bags in particular — perhaps because of the length of the most popular design’s handles — hang in the crook of the elbow, as if linking arms with its wearer. It reminds me of the way girlfriends walk down the street, arms woven together for no particular reason other than to get even closer for conspiratorial whispers, their motions in tandem with one another in an unspoken sense of camaraderie.
It was my boyfriend who pointed out to me just how many women on the E train yesterday were wearing Kate Spade bags — so many so that it practically looked planned. Perhaps it was the Punch Buggy phenomenon, we agreed, where you start to see a lot of something once your attention is turned to it. Even still, the effect was as if these women brought them out in quiet tribute, to lock elbows with a dear old friend.
If you are feeling alone, lost or hopeless, know that you are not. You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.