In the spring of 2016, only the Second Coming of the Lord could have created more excitement at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City than the visit of its most famous alumna, Katy Brosnahan, class of 1981, better known to the world as Kate Spade.
On Tuesday of this week, Kate Spade was found dead in her New York City apartment, the apparent victim of a suicide. Said Ivanka Trump in words that were echoed by many, “Kate Spade’s tragic passing is a painful reminder that we never truly know another’s pain or the burden they carry.”
That pain was not evident during Spade’s 2016 visit as captured in the school publication, DartNewsOnline. In an artfully written piece, editor-in-chief Mary Hilliard traced the arc of Spade’s ascent from St. Teresa’s through the University of Kansas to New York City where she first worked for Mademoiselle Magazine as a fashion assistant. After several years at Mademoiselle, Spade decided, “I wanted to be my own boss.”
By this time, Kate had married Andy Spade, the brother of SNL comedian David Spade. It was a fortuitous marriage for a number of reasons, high among them was her new name “Kate Spade,” which works much better on a label than “Katy Brosnahan.”
Recognizing his wife’s need to strike out on her own, Andy told Kate, “Well you have such a thing for handbags.” Said Kate, “I don’t know anything about design, how hard can it be?’” Apparently, not that hard. Andy and Kate launched their handbag business in 1993 and soon expanded their line to include jewelry, clothes, and houseware.
After their daughter Frances was born in 2005, the couple and their partners sold the brand to Liz Clairborne for $124 million and exited the business altogether in 2007. In May 2017, Kate Spade & Company was sold for $2.4 billion.
On campus in 2016, Kate was most interested in seeing the school’s new Windmoor building and its Chapel of St. Joseph. “My memories of St. Teresa’s are just remarkable, and I really, really mean that,” said Kate at the time. “It was just so, you know, it just had such an incredible impact on me, on my education.”
What happened in Kate’s last days will surely be the fodder of the entertainment media for some time to come, but it is the memory of her early days in Kansas City that will resonate among those who actually knew and loved Katy Brosnahan before she became “Kate Spade.”