Reaction to Kate Spade's death
Photography by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

“Kate Spade Has Been a Tool in My Rebellion Against Depression and Obsessive Thoughts”

One writer reflects on how fashion can impact those who struggle with mental health issues.

The news of Kate Spade’s recent death hit me while I was having (and am still having, to be honest) a low episode. I’ve been able to function, but have been experiencing more intrusive thoughts lately. This is the unfortunate ebb and flow of obsessive-compulsive disorder, even when, like me, you’re medicated and ‘in recovery’. It’s an ongoing battle with its share of plateaus, a couple of uphill hikes and many downward tumbles. No external pressures are making me feel this way, it’s basically just your crappy brain chemistry lottery.

My loved ones immediately started to message me and ask if I was okay, because they know how enamored I am with the Kate Spade brand, both her original namesake company and more recently, Frances Valentine. “Of course, I’m alright” I informed them all. Although I’m saddened by the death of a brilliant icon who has left behind a young daughter, I am simply one of the many fangirls who admired the whimsy and lightness of her work. Not to mention that the price tags were much more in reach for those of us who still need to double-check their bank accounts before they pay rent.

These past few days, the news has made me think a lot about fashion and identity, especially for those who struggle with mental health issues. What strikes me as particularly poignant is that the Kate Spade brand has historically been a tool for me in my rebellion against depression and obsessive thoughts. I’ve worn her bright statement purses on the coldest winter days in Toronto as a testament to the vibrancy of the human spirit. I bought a pair of hot pink confetti-encrusted heels for my wedding, realized I couldn’t walk through the woods in them, and switched them out for her rose gold Keds x Kate Spade New York. When I look at either pair of shoes I get an instant mood boost, reminding me that while I had a breakdown at 23 and 27, I proudly walked down a twig-strewn aisle in my aspirational Kate Spade shoes at 31. It was the cheerful dressings of a milestone moment.

Her signature polka dots and bows have been my salvation in a way akin to support groups, SSRIs and exercise. They are the armour of a person who is kicking against the darkness, albeit with well-manicured accessories. I often fear that one day that darkness is going to swallow me whole and everything, including lemon prints and flamingo clutches, will look flat and colourless to me. Fashion might appear superfluous to some, but it’s so often an external reflection of whether we have a bit of spring in our step. At my lowest, I’ve worn giant sweatshirts that hid my wrists from me as I lay immobile on the couch. At my best, my wrists are adorned in Kate Spade bracelets as I swing her botanical purse while walking down the street. I wish that those carefree moments were enough to sustain us all, especially the creator of the brand herself.

I’m guessing it’s a side effect of modern technology that when news that a famous person has died suddenly hits the internet, we often comb through pictures of them looking for clues. In truth, I’m much more used to scrolling through pictures of her accessories than I am at identifying the actual face behind the brand. All I saw staring back at me was a refined woman with quirky glasses, bouffant hair and stylish prints. I wondered whether all her bright and bubbly armour started to look colourless to her?

While clicking the add-to “bag” widget on a website might not be the traditional way to mark the effect that someone’s work has had on your life, I find it fitting for a fashion legacy.  Last week, I went onto the Frances Valentine site and saw a note that they were experiencing some technical difficulties due to high traffic. Pretty much every item imaginable was sold out. My eyes zeroed in on a small honeypot bag with a pink metallic top that I hope they get back in stock. I vowed to wear it the next time I was indulging in a summer day free of my usual anxiety. Yes, I want to sport a symbol of sweetness to commemorate a life, but also as a reminder that I will continue to fight my demons for those who can fight no longer. I’ll do it the best way I know how: with family, friends, and fashion.

More Style