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Kate Spade's Fashion Legacy


The fashion world is mourning the death of one of their own. Designer Kate Spade died after an apparent suicide yesterday. She was 55 years old. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates looks back at her life and legacy.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: In an era that experimented with grunge on one end and "Bonfires Of The Vanities"-style excess on the other, Kate Spade stood out. She wore her dark hair in a '60s-style flip, liked red lipstick and smiled a lot. Kate Brosnahan from Kansas City, Mo., had an early career as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine. Later, she launched her own handbag line with her soon-to-be husband Andy Spade and a friend Elyce Arons. Teri Agins covered the fashion industry for The Wall Street Journal for years and says from the start a Kate Spade bag was a mark of arrival for many young women.

TERI AGINS: In 1993 when Kate Spade started her business, that was during the boom of business-casual dressing. She chose a bag that was rectangular in shape. It had the long skinny handle, so you could tuck in under your shoulder. So it looked very sleek, and it was, like, under $200.

BATES: After news of Spade's death, several celebrities tweeted their condolences and memories. Chelsea Clinton said she got her first bag as a gift while in college. Olivia Munn remembered a Kate Spade was her first designer purse. Bryce Dallas Howard and Soledad O'Brien talked about Spade's quiet generosity, including her support for women's economic empowerment. After Kate and Andy Spade sold their brand, they spent a decade raising their daughter. In 2016, they went back into the market with a new accessories line they named for her - Frances Valentine. Teri Agins said she ran into Spade just before the launch.

AGINS: We were laughing because we were at an event, and no one recognized her. And she was really basically anonymous.

BATES: And ready to start from scratch again. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.