Kate Spade: Pressure of maintaining image prevented designer seeking help for mental health problems that left her suicidal, sister says

'It's a rough world out there people, try to hang on'

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 07 June 2018 00:12 BST
Kate Spade: Celebrity tributes pour in

Kate Spade’s sister has claimed felt under pressure to maintain a "happy-go-lucky" image matching her famous brand which prevented her from seeking help with mental health issues ahead of her apparent suicide.

The iconic American fashion designer, who was famed for her popular eponymous handbags, was found dead at the age of 55 in her New York apartment on Tuesday, prompting an outpouring of tributes and messages of condolences on social media.

Older sister Reta Saffo said the tragic turn of events was not "unexpected", adding that the family had tried to get Spade help a number of times in recent years, and she had been self-medicating with alcohol.

"I will say this was not unexpected by me. I'd flown out to Napa and NYC several times in the past 3-4 years to help her to get the treatment she needed (inpatient hospitalisation)," Ms Saffo told the Kansas City Star.

Ms Saffo, Spade's senior by two years, said the pressures of her billion-dollar fashion brand exacerbated her sister’s stress.

"She was always a very excitable little girl and I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive," she said.

Ms Saffo said Spade became fixated by the death of comedian Robin Williams who committed suicide at his home in Paradise Cay, California, at the age of 63 in 2014.

She argued the public image of Kate Spade the brand and designer as "happy-go-lucky" played a role in her sister's choice not to seek help for her problems.

"That seemed to make her more comfortable, and we'd get sooo close to packing her bags, but - in the end, the 'image' of her brand was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out," she said.

"Sometimes you simply cannot SAVE people from themselves! One of the last things she said to me was, 'Reta, I know you hate funerals and don't attend them, but for me would you PLEASE come to MINE, at least. Please!' I know she perhaps had a plan, but she insisted she did not," she added.

Spade has been a lauded name in the high fashion world since she launched her debut handbag line in 1993 alongside then husband-to-be Andy Spade, with whom she later had a daughter.

She went on to forge an accessories empire and her brand Kate Spade New York has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the US and more than 175 shops internationally.

Kate and Andy Spade sold 56 per cent of the brand to Neiman Marcus for $33.6m in 1999. Liz Claiborne acquired the company in 2007 - the same year Spade left her namesake brand. Luxury fashion company Coach announced it was purchasing the company for $2.4bn last year.

Actor David Spade has paid tribute to Spade, his sister-in-law.

"Fuzzy picture but I love it," he wrote late on Tuesday in an Instagram post. "Kate and I during Christmas family photos. We had so much fun that day.

"She was so sharp and quick on her feet. She could make me laugh so hard. I still can't believe it.

"It's a rough world out there people, try to hang on."

Spade, who was born Kate Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, launched a new fashion brand called Frances Valentine in 2016. In an interview with NPR this year she said she changed her name to Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade.

“We are all devastated by today’s tragedy,” her family said in a statement through a spokesman. “We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time.”

People have shared memorable quotes from the revered designer, including one from her 2002 Glamour Women of the Year interview, in which she said: “I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman but as a great friend - and a heck of a lot of fun.”

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support: mind.org.uk, beateatingdisorders.org.uk, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk, samaritans.org

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