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Designer Kate Spade with several of her designs in 2004.EXPAND
Designer Kate Spade with several of her designs in 2004.
Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo, File. Courtesy of ASU.

Remembering Designer and ASU Alumna Kate Spade

Our youngest daughter called from Brooklyn today, saddened to hear that Kate Spade died of an apparent suicide in her New York City apartment only hours before. Lizabeth had just pulled the Kate Spade wallet I gave her last Christmas from her purse, getting ready to buy tickets for Angels in America on Broadway.

Like so many others who’ve enjoyed Spade’s fashion accessories and other designs through the years, we were shocked to learn that Spade died the morning of Tuesday, June 5. She was just 55 years old, and beloved by many for her handbags and other pieces featuring clean, modern lines and vibrant colors.

Odds are, you’ll spot Spade’s designs every time you stroll through the fashion accessories at your favorite high-end department store. I lingered long over a black Kate Spade handbag just a few days ago, loving the whimsical, minimalistic cat face she put there. I stumbled on colorful, floral laptop cases too – but found it impossible to choose a favorite design.

Despite earning fame for her global lifestyle brand, Spade started out in journalism, working for the publicatiion Mademoiselle in New York City. She earned her broadcasting degree at ASU in 1985, after transferring from the University of Kansas more than 1,000 miles away.

Phoenix New Times reached out to ASU, and received this statement from a university spokesperson:

"We are saddened by the news of the passing of award-winning fashion designer and ASU alumna Kate Spade (BA, broadcasting, 1985). We are unable to comment any further at this time."

Spade hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, where she was born in 1962. Back then, famed designers included Pierre Cardin and Yves St. Laurent. Today, Spade is one of fashion’s best-known global brands, in part because of her unique aesthetic blending whimsy with sophistication.

Spade’s foray into fashion started with her dream of creating a perfect handbag, so it’s fitting that so many will remember Spade each time they open a favorite purse that bears one of her iconic designs. Daisies, pineapples, flamingos – they’re all part of Spade’s signature look.

She founded Kate Spade with her husband, Andy, in 1993, focusing on those signature bags. In 1996, she opened her first storefront in New York City.

Today, Kate Spade is a global lifestyle brand with more than 149 shops in the U.S.

The company has expanded beyond handbags and other fashion accessories to include clothing, home decor, fragrance, desk accessories, and more.

Still, that’s not what I’m remembering most of all today.

Instead, it’s the mother-daughter connection, embraced anew through one of Spade’s designs. The pale blue wallet I chose for Lizabeth bears the image of an owl. It’s an homage to my mother, who collected owl objects until her death when Lizabeth was just a toddler.

As others celebrate Spade’s contributions to the world of fashion, I’m grateful for family memories, and Spade’s small role in making them so magical.

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