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Katherine Noel Valentine Brosnahan (December 24, 1962 – June 5, 2018), known professionally as Kate Spade and Kate Valentine,[1][2] was an American fashion designer and businesswoman. She was the founder and former co-owner of the designer brand Kate Spade New York.

Kate Spade
Kate spade.png
Katherine Noel Brosnahan

(1962-12-24)December 24, 1962
DiedJune 5, 2018(2018-06-05) (aged 55)
Cause of deathSuicide by hanging
Other namesKate Valentine
EducationUniversity of Kansas Arizona State University
OccupationFashion designer, businesswoman
Known forKate Spade New York
Frances Valentine
Andy Spade (m. 1994)
RelativesRachel Brosnahan (niece)
David Spade (brother-in-law)

After working in the accessories department at the fashion magazine Mademoiselle, Brosnahan and her husband, Andy Spade, identified a market for quality stylish handbags, and founded Kate Spade New York in 1993. The handbags Spade designed and produced quickly found popularity, owing to their sophistication and affordability, and have been described as a symbol of New York City in the 1990s.

The company then expanded into other product lines. In 1999, Spade sold a 56-percent stake in her business to Neiman Marcus Group, and in 2006 she sold the rest of her shares.[3] In 2016, Spade and her partners launched a new fashion brand, Frances Valentine.[1]

On June 5, 2018, Spade was found dead in her apartment, her death was ruled a suicide.

Early lifeEdit

Spade was born Katherine Noel Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, the daughter of June (Mullen) and Earl Francis Brosnahan,[4] who owned a road-construction company.[5] She was of mostly Irish descent.[4] After graduating from St. Teresa's Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school, Spade attended the University of Kansas. She transferred to Arizona State University, where she joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and graduated with a journalism degree in 1985.[5][6]

Fashion, she recalled later, was a love but not an obsession. Her original goal was to become a television producer, and she cited the example of Holly Hunter's character in the 1987 film Broadcast News as an inspiration.[5]



In 1986, Spade worked in the accessories department at Mademoiselle magazine in Manhattan, where she was credited by her maiden name, Katy Brosnahan. While at Mademoiselle, she started living with Andy Spade, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona. The two had worked side-by-side as salespeople in a men's clothing store, Carter's Men Shop, when Spade was living in Phoenix.[7]

She left Mademoiselle in 1991, with the title of Senior Fashion Editor/Head of Accessories.[8] While working for Mademoiselle, she had noticed that the market lacked stylish and sensible handbags and decided to create her own.[9]

Kate Spade New YorkEdit

Kate Spade logo
A Kate Spade handbag

Kate and Andy Spade launched the New York-based design company "kate spade handbags" in January 1993.[10] "I wanted a functional bag that was sophisticated and had some style," she would recall. She made six prototypes with Scotch Tape and paper and found a manufacturer in East New York willing to work with a startup to turn them into bags. To finance the company, Andy, who had worked as a copywriter, withdrew his 401(k) pension plan and sometimes paid employees with personal checks. The couple spent their shipping season living at friends' apartments since their own was filled with boxed handbags.[5]

Spade was undecided as to what name to give the company, because she and Andy had not yet married, and "Kate Brosnahan" sounded like an unmarketable name for a fashion label. She considered a number of names, but agreed when Andy suggested "Kate Spade" — a combination of her first name and his surname that he found euphonious. After an early show at the Javits Center at which the department-store chain Barneys ordered a few bags, Spade decided to put the bag's labels on the outside, a change that took her all night to alter but established the brand.[5]

The bags, priced in the US$150 to $450 range, quickly became popular, particularly in New York. Teenagers with disposable income appreciated the affordability of the lower-end bags. That was "a real shift" in fashion, said Fern Mallis, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) during the 1990s. "Everybody had Kate Spade bags. You could afford them, and happily buy more than one."[11]

Young American women at the time also liked the sophisticated look. One woman recalled that the Kate Spade bags looked mature, without being too adult for a teenager as a Burberry bag would have been seen. "At the turn of the last century her bag came to encapsulate a decidedly Manhattan moment in time,"[12] a moment when Anna Wintour recalled that it was impossible to walk a block in the city without seeing one.[8]

A Kate Spade New York store in the Natick Mall, Massachusetts, in 2008

The company sold mainly handbags at first, but soon extended to clothing, jewelry, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby items, fragrances, tabletop, bedding, and gifts. In 1996, the Kate Spade brand opened its first boutique, a 400-square-foot (37 m2) shop in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district, and moved its headquarters into a 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) space in West 25th Street.[13]

In 2004, "Kate Spade at home" was launched as a home collection brand. It featured bedding, bath items, china, wallpaper, and various items for the home.[14] Later in 2004, Spade also published three books on the subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion—Manners, Occasions, and Style.[15] That same year, a Kate Spade store was opened in Aoyama, Tokyo in Japan.[16]

Neiman Marcus Group purchased 56 percent of the Kate Spade brand in 1999 and the remaining 44 percent in 2006.[3] The Group sold the label in 2006 to Liz Claiborne Inc., for $124 million; it was later renamed Fifth & Pacific.[3][17] The company was purchased by Coach, Inc. in May 2017; both Coach and Kate Spade are part of Tapestry, Inc.[18]

Frances ValentineEdit

After selling the remaining portion of her ownership stake in the Kate Spade brand in 2006,[3] Spade took time off to raise her daughter. In 2016, she and her business partners, including Elyce Arons, launched a new collection of luxury footwear and handbags under the brand name Frances Valentine.[19] The name Frances is a family name on Spade's paternal side; her daughter is named Frances, as were her grandfather, father, and brother. "Valentine" came from Spade's maternal side; it was her grandfather's middle name, given because he was born on Valentine's Day. In 2016, Spade legally added Valentine to her full name.[20]

Personal lifeEdit

Spade married Andy Spade, the brother of actor/comedian David Spade, in 1994.[10] The couple had one child, Frances Beatrix Spade, born in 2005.[21] Actress Rachel Brosnahan was Spade's niece.[22]


A housekeeper found Spade dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5, 2018. Her death was ruled a suicide by hanging.[23] Police reported she had left a note addressed to her daughter.[24] The day after his wife's death, Andy Spade released a statement:

"Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. She was actively seeking help and working closely with doctors to treat her disorder. … There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn't her. There were personal demons she was battling."[25]

The flagship Kate Spade New York store in Manhattan displayed a sign in its front window reading "Kate Spade, the visionary founder of our brand, has passed. Our thoughts are with her family at this incredibly heartbreaking time. We honor all the beauty she brought into this world".[26][27] Kate Spade's brand at the time of her death, Frances Valentine, honors Spade's legacy with a collection of designs called "Love Katy".[28] Frances Valentine had years' worth of Spade's designs and inspirations in their library and plan to launch them.[29]


In 1996, the CFDA awarded Spade "America's New Fashion Talent in Accessories" for her classic designs. In 1998, the organization again honored her for "Best Accessory Designer of the Year".[30]

Her home collection won her three design awards in 2004, including, House Beautiful's "Giants of Design Award for Tastemaker", Bon Appétit's "American Food and Entertaining Award for Designer of the Year", and Elle Decor's "Elle Decor International Design Award for Bedding".[30]

In 2017, she was inducted into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.[31]

Also in 2017, she was named one of the Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company.[32]


  1. ^ a b Kapner, Suzanne (August 23, 2016). "When Is Kate Spade Not Kate Spade? When She's Frances Valentine". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2016. one of her first acts was to find a new name. Now, she's Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan. In stores, she's Frances Valentine.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d "Neiman Marcus to Sell Kate Spade". The Wall Street Journal. New York City. November 8, 2006. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Irish American fashion designer Kate Spade dead of apparent suicide". Irish Central. June 5, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2018. Three of her great-grandparents were Irish emigrants.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bumiller, Elisabeth (March 12, 1999). "Public Lives; A Cautious Rise to a Top Name in Fashion". The New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  6. ^ "Fashion designer Kate Spade found dead in NYC". Kansas City Business Journal. June 5, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Spragins, Ellyn; Spade, Kate; Spade, Andy (September 1, 2013). "How We Bagged Our Careers". CNN Money. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Bromwich, Jonah Engel; Friedman, Vanessa; Schneier, Matthew (June 5, 2018). "Kate Spade, American Designer Whose Bags Carried Women Into Adulthood, Is Dead at 55". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  9. ^ Lieber, Chavie (March 2, 2016). "Kate Spade Brand Bags". Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Kate Spade Biography". Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Associated Press (June 5, 2018). "Spade Remembered as Vibrant and Colorful, Like Her Creations". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  12. ^ Nir, Sarah Maslin (June 5, 2018). "It Was the '90s. And Kate Spade's Bag Was It". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  13. ^ "kate spade LLC – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on kate spade LLC" Reference for Business. retrieved May 15, 2015.
  14. ^ "Kate Spade Announces the Launch of kate spade Home; Company Signs Licensing Agreements with Scalamandre Lenox, And Springs".
  15. ^
  16. ^ Abbey, Cherie D., ed. (2007). Biography today : profiles of people of interest to young readers. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics. pp. 137–140. ISBN 078080970X.
  17. ^ "Kate Spade Seems Totally Detached From Her Multimillion Dollar Namesake Brand". Business Insider. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  18. ^ Gensler, Lauren. "Coach Is Buying Kate Spade For $2.4 Billion". Forbes. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  19. ^ "Meet Kate & Andy Spade's New Venture, Frances Valentine". Fast Company. August 8, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  20. ^ Ana Colon. "Designer Kate Spade Is So Committed To Her New Brand, She Changed Her Name". Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  21. ^ "Kate Spade's Frances Valentine collection was named after late designer's daughter". Newsweek. June 5, 2018. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  22. ^ Schmidt, Ingrid (October 13, 2015). "Rachel Brosnahan of 'Manhattan' undertakes her own special fashion project". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  23. ^ "Kate Spade died from suicide by hanging, medical examiner says". CBS News. June 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Bromwich, Jonah Engel; Friedman, Vanessa; Schneier, Matthew (June 5, 2018). "Kate Spade, Whose Handbags Carried Women Into Adulthood, Is Dead at 55". New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  25. ^ Carras, Christi (June 6, 2018). "Kate Spade's Husband Issues Statement: She 'Suffered From Depression and Anxiety'". Variety. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  26. ^ "Fear and Fashion: the Kate Spade story".
  27. ^ Freeman, Vanessa; Safronova, Valeriya (June 6, 2018). "Why Kate Spade Felt Like a Friend". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
  28. ^ "How Kate Spade's Family and Friends Are Honoring the Late Designer's Vision with the New Frances Valentine Collection". Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  29. ^ Taylor, Meggen. "Kate Spade's Eye For Design Lives On With Frances Valentine". Forbes. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  30. ^ a b Gundry, Lisa; Kickul, Jill (August 14, 2006). Entrepreneurship Strategy: Changing Patterns in New Venture Creation, Growth, and Reinvention. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781483316857.
  31. ^ "Honoring Role Models" (Press release). UMKC Today. March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  32. ^ "Check out Kate Valentine, one of Fast Company's Most Creative People". Fast Company. January 22, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.

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