Over time, she distanced herself from her business.
In 1999, she and her husband, Andy Spade, sold 56% of the brand to Neiman Marcus for $33.6 million. Liz Claiborne acquired the company in 2007, and Spade left her namesake brand. The luxury fashion company Coach announced plans in May 2017 to buy Kate Spade for $2.4 billion.
Kate Spade New York issued a statement confirming the “incredibly sad news” of their eponymous founder’s death.
“Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand,” the statement said. “Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time.”
“We honor all the beauty she brought into this world,” the company said in a tweet.
— kate spade new york (@katespadeny) June 5, 2018
Spade was found hanged by a scarf she allegedly tied to a doorknob, an NYPD source said.
My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) June 5, 2018
Kate Spade’s tragic passing is a painful reminder that we never truly know another’s pain or the burden they carry. If you are struggling with depression and contemplating suicide, please, please seek help. https://t.co/eruSexNoGj
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 5, 2018
“Everyone remembers their first Kate Spade,” CNN White House reporter and former fashion editor Kate Bennett said. “(The brand) became one of those accessible but quirky fun, timeless labels that everyone had to have, and her rise was synonymous with her name.”
For many women, a Kate Spade handbag functioned as a symbol of professional achievement.
A year into being an attorney, my first splurge on myself was my (still) perfect #KateSpade black purse. Functional, crisp, professional, gorgeous. It takes a beautiful mind to design beautiful things. #RIPpic.twitter.com/NieF3sS7uI
— ℂ𝕙𝕒𝕪𝕒 (@ChayaBaliga) June 5, 2018
I was 22 when I moved to NYC and got my first real job and it even paid overtime. My first check that had OT hours in it, I set aside that money and bought myself a @katespadeny bag. It was 1998 and I felt so proud and successful. #RIPKateSpade ♥️
— alyssa mastromonaco (@AlyssaMastro44) June 5, 2018
“She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories,” the statement said.
Cindi Leive, a former editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine, said that part of Spade’s legacy is that she put her entire personality into her work.
“She understood that women are going to respond to things that feel like they’re made by a human, that they are expressing someone’s personality,” Leive said.
“If you put a pulse into it and every fiber of your being, people are going to respond. Now, that’s kind of a given. Everybody wants to create their own personal lifestyle brand,” she added. “But that was new at the time, and in a lot of ways, the contemporary version of it really came from her.”
2002: Kate Spade on her fashion inspiration
Conversation at restaurant inspired Spade
“So, Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant,” Kate Spade said, “and he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don’t start a handbag company. And he said, why not? How hard can it be? (Laughter) I thought, OK, really? He regrets those words.”
The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. It’s now the 10th leading cause of death in the country, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller’s ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.
Joe Zee, a fashion journalist who had worked with Spade, recalled her telling him of the vision to start the handbag line.
“This wasn’t something women did or just anyone really did back then in the early ’90s,” he told CNN. “And to quit a coveted magazine editor’s job to really be able to do that … it was so visionary and so ahead of its time.”
“She always had such a great ray of light about her. She was so jovial,” Zee said.
Spade’s apparent suicide comes as suicide rates in the United States increased from 1999 to 2014 for everyone between the ages of 10 and 74, according to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For white women, the suicide rate increased by 60% during that period, the study found.
Police responded at 10:10 a.m. after Spade was found by her housekeeper, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said. A suicide note was found at the scene, he said. Spade addressed her daughter in the note, according to two NYPD sources. Spade’s husband also is referenced in the note, according to one of the sources.
The designer, 55, started Kate Spade New York in 1993 and opened her first shop in the city three years later, the company’s website states.
“Debuting with just six silhouettes, she combined sleek, utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes in an entirely new way,” the site says.
Best known for its colorful handbags, Kate Spade New York has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the United States and more than 175 stores internationally, the site states.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung, David William, Aaron Cooper, Elizabeth Joseph and Darran Simon contributed to this report.
There’s a sweet, small suburban house in the vineyards of Napa, northern California. Inside, a family of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses bustles around, offering me a cheese plate. A Siamese cat weaves in and out of my legs. Everything is lovely. Sitting unobtrusively in the corner is 87-year-old Margaret Keane. “Would you like some macadamia nuts?” she asks. She hands me Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets too. “Jehovah looks after me every day,” she says. “I really feel it.” She is the last person you’d expect to be a participant in one of the great art frauds of the 20th century.
This story begins in Berlin in 1946. A young American named Walter Keane was in Europe to learn how to be a painter. And there he was, staring heartbroken at the big-eyed children fighting over scraps of food in the rubbish. As he would later write: “As if goaded by a kind of frantic despair, I sketched these dirty, ragged little victims of the war with their bruised, lacerated minds and bodies, their matted hair and runny noses. Here my life as a painter began in earnest.”
Fifteen years laterand Keane was an art sensation. The American suburb had just been invented and millions of people suddenly had a lot of wall space to fill. Some of them – those who wanted their homes to express upbeat whimsy – opted for paintings of dogs playing pool or dogs playing poker. But a great number of others, who wanted something more melancholic, went for Walter’s sad, big-eyed children. Some of the children held sad, big-eyed poodles in their arms. Others sat lonely in fields of flowers. They were dressed as harlequins and ballerinas. They just seemed so innocent and searching.
Walter himself was not a melancholic man. According to his biographers, Adam Parfrey and Cletus Nelson, he was a drinker and a lover – of women and of himself. This, for instance, is how he describes his first meeting with Margaret, the woman now sitting opposite me in Napa. It’s from his 1983 memoir, The World of Keane: “I love your paintings,” she told me. “You are the greatest artist I have ever seen. You are also the most handsome. The children in your paintings are so sad. It hurts my eyes to see them. Your perspective and the sadness you portray in the faces of the children make me want to touch them.”
“No,” I said. “Never touch any of my paintings.”
This conversation apparently took place at an outdoor art exhibition in San Francisco in 1955. Walter was still an unknown artist. He wouldn’t become a phenomenon for another few years. Later that night, his memoir continues, Margaret told him: “You are the greatest lover in the world.” They married.
Margaret’s memory of their first meeting is quite different.
The centre of Walter’s universe in the mid-1950s was a San Francisco beatnik club, The Hungry i. While comedians such as Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby performed onstage, out at the front, Walter sold his big-eyed-children paintings. One night Margaret decided to go to the club with him.
“He had me sitting in a corner,” she tells me, “and he was over there, talking, selling paintings, when somebody walked over to me and said: ‘Do you paint too?’ And I suddenly thought – just horrible shock – ‘Is he taking credit for my paintings?’”
He was. He had been telling his patrons a giant lie. Margaret was the painter of the big eyes – every one of them. Walter might well have seen sad children in postwar Berlin, but he hadn’t painted them, because he couldn’t paint to save his life.
Margaret was furious. Back home she confronted him. She told him to stop. But something unexpected happened instead. During the decade that followed, Margaret would nod in respectful admiration as Walter told interviewers that he was the best painter of eyes since El Greco. She said nothing. Why did she go along with it? What was happening inside the Keane marriage?
Margaret takes me back to the beginning. It’s true that he charmed her at that art exhibition in 1955, she says. “He was just oozing with charm. He could charm anyone.” But the rest of the conversation didn’t happen. How could it have?
Their first two years were happy, but all that changed the night of the Hungry i. “Back home he tried to explain it away,” she says. “He said: ‘We need the money. People are more likely to buy a painting if they think they’re talking to the artist. People don’t want to think I can’t paint and need to have my wife paint. People already think I painted the big eyes and if I suddenly say it was you, it’ll be confusing and people will start suing us.’ He was telling me all these horrible problems.”
Walter offered Margaret a solution: “Teach me how to paint the big-eyed children.” So she tried. “And when he couldn’t do it, it was my fault. ‘You’re not teaching me right. I could do it if you had more patience.’ I was really trying, but it was just impossible.”
Margaret felt trapped. She wanted to leave, but she didn’t know how. How would she support herself and her daughter? “So finally I went along with it,” she says. “And it was just tearing me apart.”
By the early 1960s, Keane prints and postcards were selling in the millions. You couldn’t walk into a Woolworths without seeing racks of them. Luminaries including Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kim Novak were buying the originals.
“Did you see any of the money?” I ask Margaret.
“No,” she says. “I just painted. But we moved to a nice house. There was a swimming pool. Gated. Servants. So I didn’t need to do anything except paint.” She smiles, ruefully. Outside in the sun, Walter was living the high life. “There was always three or four people swimming nude in the pool,” he wrote in his memoir. “Everybody was screwing everybody. Sometimes I’d be going to bed and there’d be three girls in the bed.” The Beach Boys would visit, and Maurice Chevalier, and Howard Keel. But Margaret rarely saw them, because she was painting 16 hours a day.
“Did the servants know what was going on?”
“No, the door was always locked,” she says. “The curtains closed.”
“You spent all those years with the curtains closed?”
“When he wasn’t home he’d usually call every hour to make sure I hadn’t gone out,” she says. “I was in jail.”
“Did you know about the affairs?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t care what he did by then.”
“It must have been lonely.”
“Yes, because he wouldn’t allow me to have any friends. If I tried to slip away from him, he’d follow me. We had a chihuahua and because I loved that little dog so much, he kicked it, and so finally I had to give the dog away. He was very jealous and domineering. And all along he said: ‘If you ever tell anyone I’m going to have you knocked off.’ I knew he knew a lot of mafia people. He really scared me. He tried to hit me once. But I said, ‘Where I come from men don’t hit women. If you ever do that again I’ll leave.’” She pauses. “But I let him do everything else, which was even worse probably.”
“Would he come home from his partying and demand you show him what you’d painted?” I ask.
“He was always pressuring me to do more,” she says. “‘Do one with a clown costume.’ Or: ‘Do two children on a rocking horse.’ One day he had this idea that I’d do this huge painting, his masterwork, to hang in the United Nations or somewhere. I had a month to do that.”
The “masterwork” was called Tomorrow Forever. It depicted a hundred sad-looking, big-eyed children of all creeds standing in a line that stretches to the horizon. The organisers of the 1964 World’s Fair hung it in their Pavilion of Education. Walter felt deeply proud of the achievement. He wrote in his memoir that his dead grandmother told him in a vision that “Michelangelo has put your name up for nomination as a member of our inner circle saying that your masterwork Tomorrow Forever will live in the hearts and minds of men as has his work on the Sistine chapel.”
The art critic John Canaday reviewed Tomorrow Forever for the New York Times: “This tasteless hack work contains about 100 children and hence it is about 100 times as bad as the average Keane.” Stung by the review, the World’s Fair took down the painting.
“Walter was furious,” Margaret says. “I felt hurt that they didn’t want it and were saying nasty things. When people said it was just sentimental stuff it really hurt my feelings. Some people couldn’t stand to even look at them. I don’t know why – just a violent reaction. But so many people really love them. Little children love them. Even babies. So eventually I thought: ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to paint what I want to paint.’”
If you’d asked Margaret back then about her inspiration – which you never would have, of course – she would have shrugged and said she didn’t know. The paintings just flowed out of her. But now, she says, she thinks she understands: “Those sad children were really my own deep feelings that I couldn’t express in any other way. Their eyes were searching. Asking why. Why is there so much sadness? Why do we have to get sick and die? Why do people shoot each other?”
“Why is my husband so crazy?” I suggest. “Why did I get into this mess?” Margaret nods.
After 10 years of marriage, eight of them horrific, they divorced. Margaret promised Walter that she’d keep on secretly painting for him. And she did for a while. But after she’d delivered maybe 20 or 30 big eyes to him, she suddenly thought: “No more lies. From now on, I will only ever tell the truth.”
Which is why, in October 1970, Margaret told a reporter from the UPI everything. “He wanted to learn to paint,” she revealed, “and I tried to teach him to paint when he was home, which wasn’t often. He couldn’t even learn to paint.”
And so on. Walter went on the offensive, swearing that the big eyes were his and calling Margaret a “boozing, sex-starved psychopath” who he once discovered having sex with several parking-lot attendants.
“He was really nuts,” Margaret says. “I couldn’t believe he had so much hate for me.”
Margaret became a Jehovah’s Witness. She moved to Hawaii and started painting big-eyed children swimming in azure seas with tropical fish. In these Hawaii paintings you can see small, cautious smiles begin to form on the faces of the children. Walter’s life wasn’t so happy. He moved to a fisherman’s shack in La Jolla, California, and began to drink from morning until night. He told the few reporters still interested in him that Margaret was in league with the Jehovah’s Witnesses to defraud him. One reporter, from USA Today, believed every word, and they ran a story on Walter’s plight: “Thinking he was dead [Margaret] claimed to have done some of the Keane paintings. The claim, vehemently denied by a very much alive Keane, is in litigation.”
Margaret sued Walter. The judge challenged them both to paint a child with big eyes, right there in court, in front of everyone. Margaret painted hers in 53 minutes. Walter said he couldn’t because he had a sore shoulder.
“And there it is,” she tells me. She points to a framed portrait on the wall of a little girl with absolutely huge eyes, peering out nervously from behind a fence. “I painted it in Honolulu federal court. It has the exhibit number on the back.”
In fact the walls of Margaret’s home are filled with big-eye paintings – children, poodles, kittens. There’s barely an inch of empty wall space.
“That painting is symbolic of her triumph over the lies,” Margaret’s son-in-law tells me as he walks past us towards the kitchen.
Margaret won the court case, of course. She was awarded $4m, but she never saw a penny of it because Walter had drunk his fortune away. A court psychologist diagnosed him with a rare mental condition called delusional disorder. I ask Margaret if she knows anything about delusional disorder. She shakes her head and says she can’t even remember Walter being diagnosed with it.
“It’s when a person who is otherwise completely normal has a particular delusion they’re absolutely convinced of,” I say. “Quite often it’s a jealous husband convinced his wife is cheating on him. Sometimes the person is convinced that some impostor is taking credit for their genius.”
“I didn’t know that,” Margaret says.
“If you have the disorder it means you truly believe it,” I say.
Margaret thinks. “For a long time I felt very guilty about it,” she says.
“Why guilty?” I ask.
“If I hadn’t allowed him to take credit for the paintings, he wouldn’t have got as sick as he got.”
Walter died in 2000. He gave up drinking towards the end, but you get the sense that he missed those days, writing in his memoir that sobriety was his “new awakening, away from the drinking world of exciting sexy beautiful women, parties and art buyers”. By the 1970s, the big eyes had fallen from favour. Woody Allen mocked them in Sleeper, imagining a ridiculous future where they were revered.
But now, suddenly, there is a kind of renaissance. A Tim Burton biopic, Big Eyes, is about to be released, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. Margaret has a cameo: “I’m a little old lady sitting on a park bench.”
“Was the film distressing to watch?” I ask her.
“It was really traumatic,” she says. “I really think I was in shock for a couple of days. Christoph Waltz – he looks like Walter, sounds like him, acts like him. And to see Amy going through what I went through … It’s very accurate. Then it started to dawn on me how fantastic the movie is.”
Margaret smiles, looking thrilled, and I realise that sometimes a wrong is so great it needs something as dramatic as a major biopic in which you’re the hero to heal the wounds.
•Big Eyes will be released in the UK on 26 December.
At a time when rancorous battles over the Supreme Court, midterm elections, and kneeling athletes are dividing friends and families, Losang Samten is releasing healing energy into an angry world, if only for a moment.
A former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Samten is a master of the andala, a spiritual sand painting whose creation is part meditation, part art. Since Sunday, he and apprentice Soo Kyong Kim have spent five hours each day sprinkling grains of sand in 30 colors onto a 5-foot-by-5-inch glass table at the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center in Northern Liberties. Ever so slowly this week, an image has been emerging of the Green Tara, a beloved Buddhist deity, the mother-savior-protectress, who represents wisdom and compassion.
“There is a lot of fear, concern, anger, and hatred,” Samten, 66, said during an interview at the center’s new headquarters on Marshall Street, where he is spiritual director. “We want to make peace.”
By Sunday, when the piece is finished, he and Kim, a 53-year-old musician, will have surrounded the Green Tara with 21 other goddesses.
Then, Samten said, they will “dismantle” it.
The mandala (Sanskrit for circle) is a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the universe. It is a collection of geometric shapes that emanate from the center of a circle, and typically contain depictions of religious iconography, including deities and temples. Creating one is a meditative practice.
They are using two metal cone-like instruments called chak-pur to pour the sand onto a grid drawn by Samten. One cone, filled with the sand, distributes it onto the table through a tiny hole, while the other cone, which is empty, is used to tap on the sand-filled one, an action that regulates the amount and speed at which the grains are dispensed.
Samten and Kim are working on the mandala from 1 to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday, and the public is invited to watch. On Sunday at about noon, those gathered at the center will scoop up the delicately placed grains in a ritual that signifies life’s impermanence. They may take home envelopes of sand as a blessing, while leftover grains that once depicted a goddess will be dumped in a body of water to bless the environment.
A large picture of the Green Tara hangs on the wall of the center, a rendering that Samten has had since shortly after moving to America in 1988.
Born in Tibet, Samten fled China at 5 with his family in 1959 during the Communist takeover. The family settled in India, where Samten entered the exiled Dalai Lama’s Namgyal Monastery. He served as an assistant to the Dalai Lama and began learning the sacred art of the mandala as a teenager.
He was sent to the U.S. to spread the gospel of the mandala in 1988 when New York writer/artist and Buddhist practitioner Barry Bryant asked the Dalai Lama to send someone skilled in the practice. Samten settled in Philadelphia after he createda mandala at the Penn Museum and a group of professors pleaded with the Dalai Lama to allow him to stay.
Since then, Samten has completed hundreds of mandalas around the world, at universities, museums, schools, and prisons, with the longest taking five weeks. Coming up are mandalas in California, New Jersey, Brazil, and in Philadelphia at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter, where Samten is a teacher in residence. He gave up being a monk 20 years ago because he was “more comfortable” as a lay teacher in his adopted home.
For the last decade, Samten has done virtually no mandalas at his own center because its 80 members have been nomads for the last 27 years, renting spaces in museums, churches, and schools.
In 2010, the community purchased its present building, on a then-decrepit block of Marshall Street, and transformed it into a quiet sanctuary for meditation. The Green Tara is the second mandala Samten has done since moving into the new headquarters, on a now-gentrified block in transition.
When he’s creating, Samten says, his mind is empty. There is only a mental quietness. It is a skill that Kim hasn’t yet mastered. When she’s creating a mandala, her mind is racing. “I’m thinking about all sorts of things, like if the line of sand” she’s sprinkling on the mandala is a straight one, Kim said.
Samten has slowed his mandala creation, in part, because of age — his eyes, he said, aren’t want they used to be — but also because he is busy with other projects. He leads retreats and workshops and runs the center, which is frequented by people of all faith traditions.
He worries about the future of sand painting that right now flourishes only in India. Kim gives him hope. A violist, music teacher, and graduate of Julliard, she has been a member of the center for 20 years and studied with the mandala master throughout. Her apprenticeship became official last year as part of a program with the Philadelphia Folklore Project.
“It’s art. It’s beautiful,” Kim said, “and I want to keep up a tradition that is fading.”