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Police: Designer Kate Spade Found Dead In Manhattan Apartment In Apparent Suicide

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Designer Kate Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on Tuesday following an apparent suicide, police said.

Her housekeeper found her body hanging by a scarf at 10:20 a.m. at her home at Park Avenue and 77th Street.

Kate Spade
Designer Kate Spade attends the Tribeca Ball 2011 at the New York Academy of Art on April 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for New York Academy of Art)

Born Kate Brosnahan, she achieved fame in the fashion world under the name Kate Spade.

Spade, 55, left a note, police said.

"It appears to be a tragic case of apparent suicide," said NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea. "It is early in the investigation. There was a suicide note left at the scene. I'm not going to get into the contents of that note."

Police sources say there were indications of financial and marital issues.

Spade's death sent shockwaves throughout the fashion world, and also on the streets of New York. She turned a bag into a billion dollar brand, as her handbags created a huge sensation in the fashion industry in the 1990s.

Her company, Kate Spade New York, at one point had over 140 retails shops across the country and 175 internationally.

"Kate Spade, the visionary founder of our brand, has passed. Our thoughts are with her family at this incredibly heartbreaking time. We honor all the beauty she brought into this world," Kate Spade New York tweeted.

When people think of Kate Spade, they think of bright, vibrant, simple designs.

"I've always associated them with cheery, positive clothing and items," one woman told CBS2.

"Her personality in many ways matched the designs that she produced," said Patricia Mears of the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Kate Spade Handbag
A Kate Spade bag at the Cocktail Kate Spade New York at BHV Store on April 23, 2015 in Paris, France. (credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Kate Spade New York)

When news of her death broke, many were shocked at the dark, complicated circumstances surrounding it.

Mears met Spade back in the '90s.

"[Her death] was very much contrary to what we all knew of Kate Spade, a wonderful, warm, outgoing human being," she said.

She was born in Kansas City in 1962 and went to Arizona State University where she met Andy Spade, who she eventually married and went into business with, forming the company Kate Spade New York in the early 1990s.

They started the company after she worked at the magazine Mademoiselle. It eventually grew into a global lifestyle brand.

"I think what was happening at the time either they were too designed, overly complicated, or they were so basic and functional that there wasn't really any 'Oh, I just have to have it' spirit to them," she said in a 2002 interview.

The company started with just a few orders, and soon enough Hollywood's elite came calling and buying her bags. 

In 2007, they sold the company. Just last year, Coach bought the Kate Spade company in a $2.4 billion deal.

In 2016, she started a new shoes and accessories brand called Frances Valentine, and changed her name to Kate Valentine Spade.

All the while, she had a broad reach of customers.

"Kate really knew how to not only create something that was covetable and be worn by a wide demographic, but she understood you had to do it at every price point," Mears said.

Women on the street were quick to pull out their Kate Spade wallets to show CBS2's cameras.

"Really classy, I love her stuff. It's really sad," one woman said.

"I'm completely shocked. I have her shoes upstairs underneath my desk," another said.

"I don't believe it. Why? I think she had it all," another woman told Gainer.

Spade was also the mother to a 13-year-old girl. Police sources tell CBS2 the note she left was addressed to her daughter.

Kate Spade's sister, Reta Saffo, called her "a precious little person" in a statement sent to CBS2 late Tuesday.

"She was surrounded by YES people, for far too long, therefore she did not receive the proper care for what I believe to be (and tried numerous times to get help for) Bipolar disorder... stemming from her immense celebrity," the statement continued. "She never expected it -- nor was she properly prepared for it. Unfortunately, untreated, it finally took its toll on her."

"We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Kate Spade," Hudson's Bay, the parent company of Lord & Taylor and Saks, wrote in tweet. "She was a beloved talent that made an enduring mark on American fashion. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family. Kate will be missed by many."

"Kate Spade had an enviable gift for understanding exactly what women the world over wanted to carry. She launched her label at a time when everyone thought that the definition of a handbag was strictly European, all decades-old serious status and wealth. Then along came this thoroughly American young woman who changed everything," said Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of Vogue. "There was a moment when you couldn't walk a block in New York without seeing one of her bags, which were just like her; colorful and unpretentious. Kate designed with great charm and humor, and built a global empire that reflected exactly who she was and how she lived. Long before we talked about 'authenticity', she defined it."

WEB EXTRA: Kate Spade speaks with CBS2's Gail O'Neill in this 1999 interview. 

In a 1999 interview, she told CBS2's Gail O'Neill the company started in her apartment in 1993.

"There was a lack of interesting accessories that had a personality but still very elegant and functional," she said. "And I loved the idea of using really beautiful fabrics, and I didn't see a lot of that."

News of her death prompted numerous tweets on Twitter, many urging people struggling with depression to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

"Kate Spade's tragic passing is a painful reminder that we never truly know another's pain or the burden they carry," Ivanka Trump wrote on Twitter. "If you are struggling with depression and contemplating suicide, please, please seek help."

"My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college," tweeted Chelsea Clinton. "I still have it. Holding Kate's family, friends and loved ones in my heart."

"I will never forget the first Kate Spade bag I got for Christmas in college. She was a trailblazer. Her life and death are a reminder that pain doesn't discriminate. Sending love to her family," wrote Jenna Bush Hager.

"My heart and prayers go out to Kate Spade and her family. What a wonderful, talented woman who will be dearly missed," wrote Reese Witherspoon on Twitter.

"Kate Spade, whose lively, colorful, and yes, joyous designs has died," wrote Bette Midler. "My deepest sympathy to her family and friends, and her many fans around the world, who loved the wonderful illusions she created. I am stunned."

"Kate Spade was more than a designer. She had a quirky visual language that captivated Bat Mitzvah girls and artists alike," wrote Lena Dunham on Twitter. "She was also a staple of NYC who spread good will. My heart breaks for her family. Thank you, Kate, from one of the millions you made feel beautiful."

"The passing of Kate Spade is a stark reminder that we never know the struggles of a person regardless of their outward persona. If you or anyone you love is struggling, there is help. You don't have to be alone," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted.

"Depression does not discriminate and comes without warning. RIP Kate Spade. Love to her family," tweeted Josh Groban.

"I am heartbroken about the news of Kate Spade. I have worn her clothes many, many times. They were colorful, bold, cheerful, and encouraged women to find the twinkly person inside them. You couldn't walk into her boutiques and not smile. Rest in peace, Kate," wrote Mindy Kaling.

"As 'unfussy" as I am, I still loved my Kate Spade bags. Practical, classy, and elegant... Praying for her 'family...her husband and 13 yr old daughter," tweeted Viola Davis.

"The world lost a brilliant soul, an inspiring artist, and a powerful businesswoman in Kate Spade. My thoughts are with her loved ones," wrote New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Editor's note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. You can also learn more and chat with them online by clicking here

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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