Hours after Kate Spade was found dead of an apparent suicide in her Park Avenue apartment, a tragic and sudden end that rocked the fashion world, her sister released a statement alleging her sister had struggled for years.
The comments soon sparked controversy, with a source close to the family saying Spade’s relatives were “disgusted” by the remarks of the sister, who the source said had been estranged from the “entire family” for a decade.
Spade’s sister, Reta Saffo, said late Tuesday she believed Spade, a 55-year-old longtime married mother to a 13-year-old girl, had bipolar disorder — and had a hard time with it. Her claim has not been substantiated by others in the family.
“She did not receive the proper care for what I believed to be (and tried numerous times to get her help for) bipolar disorder,” Saffo said in a statement obtained by NBC 4 New York. Saffo didn’t elaborate on any behavior she observed over the years but blamed “immense celebrity” for the issues.
“She never expected it — nor was she properly prepared for it,” Saffo said of her stardom. “Unfortunately, untreated, it finally took its toll on her.”
Calling Spade’s death a “tragic and sad ending,” Saffo said, “my little sister Katy was a precious, precious little person. Genuine in almost every way.”
Some close to Spade disputed her sister’s comments about an alleged mental illness.
“The family is disgusted and saddened that at this time of great sorrow, Kate’s sister, who has been estranged from the entire family for more than 10 years would choose to surface with unsubstantiated comment,” a source close to the family said. “Her statement paints a picture of someone who did not know her at all.”
A housekeeper discovered Spade hanged in her bedroom Tuesday morning. Spade’s daughter was at school at the time. A note was found at the scene. The Associated Press reported it had a message for the daughter telling her Spade’s death was not her fault.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Spade leaves behind her husband of 24 years, Andy, and her daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade.
While police have called Spade’s death a likely suicide, the medical examiner is conducting an autopsy to confirm how she died.
Meanwhile, Spade was remembered Tuesday in a flood of social media posts and statements from fashion’s biggest names. She was mourned by hundreds of thousands of others, too — some who simply recalled buying her famed handbags or felt heartache by the circumstances of her death.
Though Spade has been removed from the brand she founded for some time, her name is the stuff of fashion legend. In the early 1990s, Spade, then an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine, launched her company with her husband in their apartment. She started it based on six shapes of bags that she thought every working woman needed, a vision that would propel her to the upper echelons of the exceedingly competitive global fashion and design industry.
“I grew up in the Midwest, where you have to have it (a fashion item) because you like it, not because you’re supposed to have it,” Spade told The Associated Press in 2004. “For our customers, fashion is in the right place in their life. It’s an adornment, not an obsession.”
The company she founded, Kate Spade New York, has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the country, as well as more than 175 stores internationally.
Spade walked away from the company in 2007, a year after it was acquired from the Neiman Marcus Group for $125 million by the company then known as Liz Claiborne Inc.
A spokeswoman for Kate Spade New York called Spade’s death “incredibly sad news” in a statement.
“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.”
Spade and her husband started a new handbag company a few years ago, Frances Valentine. And she changed her name to Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade, she said in an NPR interview this year.
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States, claiming more than twice as many lives as homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here is information on suicide prevention from the National Institute of Mental Health. If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.