Kate Spade with her iconic bags that became a billion-dollar industry
Kate Spade... and now Anthony Bourdain
ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre (The Philippine Star) - June 10, 2018 - 12:00am

The latest celebrity to die by his own hand is Anthony Bourdain. Others on the suicide list include Robin Williams, whose death Spade was fixated on, and designers Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott.

Bright, cheery and unpretentious, the Kate Spade bag was a staple in every cosmopolitan woman’s wardrobe from the ’90s onwards. 

Embodying the all-American spirit of New York, these attributes of the winning brand could very well describe its creator, who started the eponymous line together with her husband, Andy Spade. 

Born in Kansas, Missouri, Kate would say at interviews that early on she didn’t even know Chanel and migth very well spell it “Channel,” but when she ended up working at Mademoiselle magazine, she realized there was a need for more accessible bags for women like her during a time when status European labels reigned. 

Andy and Kate Spade, the couple who epitomized all-American accessible luxury

Sitting with her future husband in a Mexican restaurant talking about the possibility of designing bags, Andy told her, “How hard could it be?”  The rest, of course, is fashion history as they built together a billion-dollar empire, which later expanded to shoes, housewares and clothing.

The brand’s appeal always hinged on their warm, approachable personalities, which was apparent in a Bon Appetit interview in 2012: “We never reject anyone based on what they’re wearing,” said Andy about their casual dinner parties. “If a guy showed up in a tank top, flip-flops and a sailor hat, we’d say, ‘Come on in, who are you?” 

Even their food was easy and simple, according to Kate: “Ideally it’s meatloaf and potatoes. For dessert, Duncan Hines chocolate cake or banana cream pie. Give me a cake like grandmother makes!”  Kate liked their food hearty — no dainty fare for this couple.

Gone to parts unknown: TV host, bestselling author and chef Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room on Friday after he hanged himself.

Kate Spade became practically a household brand that was reassuring, like a close neighbor or friend.  So when news came that the ideal American housewife had died in an apparent suicide in her Park Avenue apartment last June 5, the whole world was shocked.  How could a woman who had it all choose to end her life?  

Apparently, the couple had been living separately for the last 10 months, based on Andy’s statement to The New York Times.  But they still took vacations and had dinners together for the sake of their 13-year-old daughter Frances and never even discussed divorce. His most telling revelation, however, was that “Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.” 

Kate’s sister, Reta Saffo, said the news “was not unexpected by me.”  She said Kate suffered for three to four years with mental illness and “chickened out” from multiple attempts to seek treatment because she was concerned about how it might affect the image of her “happy-go-lucky” brand.  Saffo also related how “fixated” her sister was on the suicide death of Robin Williams in 2014, possibly giving her ideas to plan her own suicide:  “She kept watching it over and over.  I think the plan was already set in motion even as far back as then.”

Designers who seem to want for nothing

Designer L’Wren Scott with her longtime boyfriend, rock superstar Mick Jagger

In the last decade, two other well-known designers have actually committed suicide, and also by hanging:  Alexander McQueen in 2010 and L’Wren Scott in 2014. 

McQueen, the controversial designer known as l’enfant terrible and “hooligan of British fashion” because of his dark, unconventional designs, died three years after his mentor, magazine editor and fashion guru Isabella Blow. Blow was the one who discovered McQueen and bought his entire graduate collection.  She later brokered a deal with Gucci to buy his brand, an affair that led to a rift between the two because Blow felt neglected by McQueen, who gave other friends contracts, whereas she “just got a free dress.”  

This was also a low point in her life when she got fell into a depression, and was angst-ridden over her inability to “find a home in a world she influenced.”  Disinherited by her father, she had financial problems to add to her burden, which was even made worse by her separation from her husband.  During their estrangement, she was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and began electroshock therapy that helped her for a time. 

She reconciled with her husband eventually but afterward was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which got her into another unstable phase leading to numerous suicide attempts: an overdose of sleeping pills, jumping from the Hammersmith Flyover, driving her car into the rear of a lorry, trying to drown herself in a lake, taking horse tranquilizers and overdosing at a beach in India.  Her final attempt was ingesting poison that landed her in the hospital, where they could no longer revive her.

L’Wren Scott with her classically tailored but sumptuously detailed creations

Alexander McQueen also had prolonged bouts of depression, which were exacerbated by taking a lot of party drugs. He ended his life just days after his beloved mother died, but even before her death he was already troubled, as gleaned from a Twitter post:  “From heaven to hell and back again, life is a funny thing.  Beauty can come from the strangest places, even the most disgusting places.” 

The death of Isabella also affected him deeply.  McQueen was actually diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depressive disorder and had overdosed on cocaine, sleeping pills and tranquilizers before hanging himself in his Mayfair apartment.

If L’Wren Scott had periods of depression, she hardly showed it. “She gave an impression of a certain serenity, which is so out of tune with her sudden death,” said Suzy Menkes about the designer, who seemed to want for nothing: glamour, success, the rock star Mick Jagger as her longtime boyfriend, and Hollywood A-lister clients like Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Penelope Cruz, who wore her red carpet creations.   

In an industry known for its hectic pace, populated by bitchy divas, she stood apart with her calmness and kind consideration for other people.  But some speculated that this may just have been a façade and underneath were a lot of insecurities stemming from the fact that she was given up for adoption at birth.  She was also having financial problems with her business.  What was so unusual was that on the morning of her death, she asked her assistant to come by her apartment.  It was so uncharacteristic of her, making her friends conclude that the suicide may have been an impulsive thing. In any case, they could not fathom why she did it.

Suicide has taken lives in countless professions, despite every measure of success: just as this article was published, CNN reported that food writer and travel host Anthony Bourdain, 61, was found dead of a suicide while filming an upcoming episode of his TV series Parts Unknown. His close friend Eric Ripert, the French chef, found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room Friday morning.

There really is no single cause for suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: “Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create a feeling of hopelessness and despair.  Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Anxiety and substance problems, when unaddressed, also increase the risk.”

Alexander McQueen with Sarah Jessica Parker wearing one of his creations inspired by his native Scotland

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44 years, taking about 900,000 lives annually worldwide, says Filipino psychiatrist Dinah Nadera.  “About 60 percent of all suicide deaths are among young adults.  Among the risk factors, depression is the most frequent. Someone dies of suicide every 40 seconds and for nearly every suicide death, 10 to 20 persons attempt suicide.”

The Department of Health counts some 3.3 million Filipinos suffering from depression (not including the unreported cases), not to mention that there is also bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, OCD, and paranoia, among others, to consider.

In Asia, the Philippines has one of the lowest rates  (3.8 suicides per 100,000 people per year) but the Philippine Psychiatric Association found that these rates have been on the rise for the period between 1992 to 2012.

How can you tell if someone is suicidal?  “Some may not verbalize that they want to die, but there are warning signs,” according to another psychiatrist, Bernadette Arcena.  “Usually dramatic changes in mood, behavior and appearance. If you want to figure out if the situation is serious, ask outright — ask about their thoughts, intentions and plans.  Seek help once you see the warning signs — professionals will prescribe medicine and talk to the relatives.  The problem with Pinoys is that there is a stigma in going to a psychiatrist.”  

Depression or any other mental disorder is not a weakness of character but a disease that can be treated and people who actively manage their mental health condition can actually go on to engage in  and enjoy life again. 

* * *

For free counseling and concerns regarding depression and suicide prevention, the Department of Health, in partnership with W.H.O. and the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, has a crisis support hotline called HOPELINE.  Call 804-HOPE (4673) or 0917-558-HOPE (4673) or 0917-2919.  In Touch Philippines also offers free and anonymous counseling at 893-7603 or 0917-800-1123/0922-893-8944.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with