KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kate Spade was a fashion icon and household name across America, and she continued to give back in her hometown of Kansas City, inspiring Midwest women to follow in her footsteps.
A bouquet of roses was placed outside the Kate Spade New York retail store on the Country Club Plaza. Someone placed them there with a quote by Spade to honor the fashion icon in her hometown.
Spade, who died Tuesday from an apparent suicide at the age of 55, grew up in Kansas City.
Halls Kansas City was one of the first to carry her line, which appealed to a new, younger customer that designers were not designing for in 1993 when her six handbags launched.
“She was known for quality, bright colors and the whimsy involved in creations that attracted a new audience,” said Kelly Cole, CEO and President of Halls. “I’ve seen grandmothers, mothers and granddaughters all carrying Kate Spade or Frances Valentine.”
Spade started the colorful handbag and lifestyle company with her husband Andrew. They sold the majority to Neiman Marcus for $34 million in 1999. The rest was sold in 2006 for another $59 million.
Most recently, Spade lived in New York City and had launched the Frances Valentine label named after her daughter.
Until her death, Spade was active with the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City. Its executive director said at her last fundraiser, donations totaled around $30,000. Over time, she raised more than $300,000 for the group.
On Facebook, the group said: “Our hearts go out to the family of our friend, Kate Spade. We are deeply saddened by her loss.”
She also spoke at events in the metro, including the Halls Family Foundation.
When Spade launched Frances Valentine, she made a trip back to the metro. She talked about building a fashion empire out of a conversation with her husband at a restaurant.
That story inspired Kathryn Snellen, who launched her own branding and online marketing company KES Studio.
Snellen described Spade’s story as inspiring and said she was saddened to hear about her death.
"She had this spark of inspiration; she didn’t know what it was. Her husband was like you need to do bags that’s what you love," said Snellen.
Snellen enjoyed hearing how she built her brand and business into a lifestyle.
"Kate Spade was always a brand I looked up to because they created an experience. From what you saw online to the website," said Snellen, who said that's the type of branding she offers businesses as well.
Snellen picked a pair of Kate Spade heels to wear at her wedding.
"It was so magical. I will always remember that moment," said Snellen. "When you went to the store, it felt like you were walking into Kate Spade’s closet."
Snellen wasn't the only Kansas City resident who met Spade in 2016.
"We must have had over 400 people here to meet Kate," said Cole.
Fashion blogger Jana Meister was in the group, and she kept in touch with her team.
She even visited the Kate Spade New York showroom, seeing the upcoming season before it was unveiled to the public.
"I think she always kept her Midwest roots and was so kind and helpful to everyone," said Meister.
Spade is an ‘81 graduate of St. Teresa’s in Kansas City. The school released the following statement:
“The faculty and staff of St. Teresa’s Academy are saddened to learn of the death of Kate Brosnahan Spade (class of 1981). Kate was a valued member of the St. Teresa’s Academy sisterhood. She last visited the campus during the 150th anniversary celebration of St. Teresa’s in 2016. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family and friends.”
Spade spent one year at the University of Kansas before transferring to Arizona State University. She was a Kappa.
Cole said Spade was a friend of his and of many Halls associates.
“In a very crowded room, you were her sole attention. She was a great listener, interested in people. At the same time, she was the life of the room and of the party,” said Cole. “She was congenial, witty, sophisticated, a very caring person. And she will be missed.”
Halls confirmed to 41 Action News in the past day it has seen much interest in the Frances Valentine line. Many of the store's items are sold out online.
Halls is the only store to carry that brand in the metro.
Buyers are at market right now, but there's no word yet on what will happen to the company.
"Certainly she will be missed in Kansas City and the world. She’s a dynamo that positively impacted fashion," said Cole.