"This Was Not Unexpected:" Iconic Fashion Designer Kate Spade's Sister Explains That Mental Illness Likely Caused Kate's Suicide
While news of Kate Spade's death continues to send shockwaves throughout the world, her older sister, Reta Saffo, paints a picture of this pillar of American fashion that's both insightful and heartbreaking.
The American fashion designer adored for her carefree and whimsical creations was found lifeless in her Manhattan apartment. Her husband was thought to have been in the apartment when she committed suicide.
Discovered by her housekeeper on the morning of June 5, Kate took her own life by hanging herself. The Kansas-born 55-year-old was asphyxiated by a scarf that she had tied to a doorknob. The mom of one and wife of 24 years was also reported to have left a suicide note explaining her actions, the contents of which were not shared by authorities.
Many consider Kate's death unforeseen, but her sister Reta had contrasting thoughts.
"I will say this was not unexpected by me. I'd flown out to Napa and NYC several times in the past three to four years to help her to get the treatment she needed (inpatient hospitalization)," Reta told the The Kansas City Star.
Reta continued to explain that Kate, while known by most to be jovial and jolly, had battled mental illness for years and had turned to alcohol to self-medicate. Reta did not specify which mental illness her famous sister suffered from, but suggested that bipolar disorder was what pushed her to commit suicide.
"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," Reta reflected.
Most painfully, Reta recounts how she and Kate had many failed attempts at checking into a medical facility where Kate could receive help. Kate reasoned that receiving psychiatric treatment would reflect badly on her brand whose designs communicated joy and lightness, consistently choosing to place her business' success ahead of her own needs.
Kate, along with her husband and business partner Andy Spade, founded Kate Spade New York in 1993. Her creative vision was anchored on six essential bag designs she thought everyone woman needed, and with that, her fashion label rose to phenomenal heights, becoming one of the fashion industry's most beloved and original brands.
Working hands-on in the company for six years, Kate and Andy sold 56% of Kate Spade New York to Neiman Marcus in 1999, which was then acquired by Liz Claiborne in 2007, and eventually bought by Tapestry (Coach's parent company) in 2017 for an estimate of $2.4 billion.
No longer affiliated with the brand at the time of her death, Kate chose to let go of the company she founded to focus on caring for family. She launched an accessories line in 2016, Frances Valentine, named after her 13-year-old daughter, Frances. Frances was reported to be in school when news of her mother's suicide made headlines.
"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," Reta shared.
Celebrities who loved Kate and her brand have turned to social media to express their grief over her passing and a deepened appreciation of her creations. In the United States, this tragedy has once again spurred discussions on the importance of mental health, the accessibility to treatment, and the breaking down of stigmas attached to the issue.
Kate Spade's family released a statement via The New York Times and asked for privacy. "We are all devastated by today’s tragedy. 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," the statement read.
Photo from @thekansascitystar