Lessons in Everyday Joy: Remembering Kate Spade A Year On

Kate Valentine Spade, via the  Frances Valentine Instagram .

Kate Valentine Spade, via the Frances Valentine Instagram.

We stan Kate Spade in this house that is The Attic On Eighth. Our Lifestyle Editor, Lee Clark, wrote about her love for her upon her passing last year, and the two of us have shared endless chats and reflections on what she means to us over the past year.

What, you may want to ask, is so monumental about a designer that she takes up so much space in our hearts and minds?

The answer is quite simple: she inspires.

With her designs, with the aesthetics she curated during her life – sharing them first through her namesake company, Kate Spade New York, and then through the new Frances Valentine, but also through her home, her books, her interactions with the world – Kate encouraged a love of art and beauty always laced with genuine emotion.

This ensemble of elements inspired me at many moments of my life – from marveling over her ads in my mother’s copies of Vogue as a child, to poring over Kate Spade products in my early twenties, to picking out my wedding shoes last year. To this day, I save endless photos from Frances Valentine campaigns to my moodboards – unable to access the products, in my case because of shipping over the Atlantic, but constantly inspired more by the moods that they convey rather than the specific products they include – moods that perfectly capture the feelings of the season, of sitting in summer gardens with my grandmother or stepping outside in pajamas in the early morning or finally crocheting that polka dot sweater I’ve spent years dreaming about.

Kate encouraged a love of art and beauty always laced with genuine emotion

To paraphrase many conversations with Lee, Kate’s aesthetic, whether captured by Frances Valentine or looking back over the years, inspires a thrill – a gasp induced by an aesthetic perfection that doesn’t just make you want to buy a handbag or a pair of sandals but to change your life just so you can infuse joy into everything you do and maybe build a boxcar for your children one day or throw yourself into a pile of books in a pretty dress.

Kate Spade typerwriter ad.jpg

I think about the old ad campaigns full of books and love and life. I think about the photo of a couple in mismatched clothes reading and how it made me dream as a teen. The photo of the young woman typing away at her typewriter on a beautifully made bed and knowing in my early twenties that that one photo encapsulated what I wanted to be. I think about the way Kate named her company by squashing her first name together with her not-yet-husband’s last name – a sign of faith and romance that rocks me to my hopelessly romantic core. I think about the way she got married in a silver ball gown skirt and a cardigan and laughed when her dress caught fire. I think about the Kate Spade campaigns that followed her departure from the company but still styled themselves after her aesthetic, and I want to eat cake for breakfast, I want to make sure I serve take out on my favorite china. I think about these things, and I know what I want to do.

The author, inspired by the joy for life.

The author, inspired by the joy for life.

The thrill that this inspiration provokes reminds me that when it comes to living, no detail is too small. I want to infuse love into my world in that same way – not through a brand and not through commercial products – but by allowing myself to bring the beauty I crave into every aspect of my life. I want not only to wear beautiful clothes and carry handbags that allow me to look down and smile during a busy day – a source of strength, but to bring it into the seemingly small things in my life – to make sure I love the cups I keep my pens in at my desk, to think about whether the spaces I occupy reflect what I want them to reflect. To think about whether I take the time every single day to think about art and culture and the joy they can bring not only me but the people around me.  

Losing Kate Spade to suicide last year, less than a week after I personally, finally started therapy, reminded me of the importance of all of this. It shook me to my core, with a sadness I’d never before felt for the death of a public figure. Every time I’d seen anything from Kate Spade the person or anything she represented through my life, I’d felt that jolt of inspiration, of joy – a reminder to seek the beauty of the world. To know that she too struggled with depression and was unable to survive it absolutely devastated me. A tragedy, but also a reminder that in order to attain the joy she inspired, mental health always needed to make its way to the forefront. Her loss shocked me (still shocks me), but it also startled me and many people around me to think more actively about the importance of mental health. It made someone close to me who’d been sceptical about medication, therapy, and the realities of depression and anxiety stop and think – it made her finally understand, and it made her supportive. It made me realize that even if at that moment of my life I was truly happy, I needed to invest in my mental health to make sure I could keep being happy in the future – I needed to continuously take steps to make sure I had support, that I knew how to help myself, that I knew how to invest in my future by investing in myself. It also reminded me to keep seeking the beauty in life – to keep seeking that thrill of joy that Kate Spade inspired, to finally take the steps I’d always pushed aside to make those joys a reality. To finally dress with the joy I wanted, to embrace the things I thought might be too extra for the every day, to re-introduce color into my wardrobe, to finally redecorate my home. It’s what Kate would want.

Today, right before Lee messaged me with Frances Valentine’s tribute to Kate, I prepped my iced coffee in my absolutely not-seasonal for early June jingle bells cocktail shaker, twirling in a polka dot skirt, and I realized that I’ve done just that.

We take mental health seriously here at The Attic. We hope you do too. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (United States), 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide Crisis Line, 1-800-784-2433 or text ‘HOME’ to 741741.

For international numbers and resources, the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Olivia Gündüz-Willemin is Editor-in-Chief of The Attic on Eighth. She has multiple literature degrees and is dedicated to reading her way through the world while trying to stay as calm as possible.