Outside the Kate Spade store at The Gardens Mall, sadness seeps in

Ashley Conway was planning a special dinner party for this weekend. Its theme? Conway’s favorite accessory designer, Kate Spade.

Tuesday, standing outside of Spade’s eponymous store at The Gardens Mall, the party plans took on a different meaning.

“This is very ironic that this happened. I’m really sad,” Conway, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens, said of the death of the 55-year-old designer, found Tuesday morning at her New York home in an apparent suicide. Fans like Conway expressed their shock at the news of Spade’s death, and their appreciation for her signature fashionably functional work.

“I love all her purses so much and now that she is gone I thought it would be a good way to remember her by buying one today,” said Conway, wearing one of Spade’s pink Thompson Street Juliet bags draped over her right shoulder and a bright green Spade shopping bag in her left hand, containing a just-purchased version of the Thompson Street Juliet, but in black. The new bag is her ninth Kate Spade.

She said the party this weekend will go on, but it will be a tribute to Spade.

‘Mental illness ... affects everyone’

Fan Robin Gill, of Palm Beach Gardens, snapped a selfie of herself outside the store, which saw brisk traffic mid-afternoon. “It’s just very sad,” she said of Spade’s passing. “It shows how mental illness is a huge thing in the country. That even if you’re a famous designer making millions or you’re a regular person, it affects everyone.”

An employee at the Gardens store declined comment on the designer’s death Tuesday afternoon.

Along with the Kate Spade store at The Gardens Mall, there’s also one at Boca Raton Town Center. At one time, there was a Worth Avenue store, but that has since closed.

There’s also a Kate Spade New York store in the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise.

Several retailers, such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, sell Kate Spade products, and others, such as Marshalls and TJ Maxx, often sell merchandise that is out of season.

The crown jewel in Spade’s portfolio were her handbags, an elegantly boxy shape adorned with just a rectangular label bearing her name. Effortlessly chic, they were the cornerstone of the designer’s accessories kingdom, which grew to include items like sunglasses, fragrance and journals.

But there was no better emblem for Kate Spade’s brand than the designer herself, whose signature style was a mixture of classic glamour and a touch of feminine whimsy.

“I do things that I actually love and understand,” Spade said in 2002 in an interview in 2002 with then-Palm Beach Post Fashion Editor Staci Sturrock. She appeared at Bloomingdales at Boca Raton’s Town Center Mall to promote her Kate Spade Beauty brand, including a “very Kate Spade” fragrance baring her “thumbprint … It’s elegant and bright. Not sweet and old-fashioned. It has to have a bounce to it. And warmth.”

Her bags were on display in Delray Beach

At the time of her Boca Raton appearance, several of Spade’s bags, including the “George” bag commissioned for then-First Lady Laura Bush, were on display as part of an exhibition at Delray Beach’s Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History called “Hats, Handbags and Gloves: from Past to Present.” To curator Lori J. Durante, Spade’s “brand epitomized the happy-go-lucky yet sleek preppy lifestyle. It was truly an honor to display that bag in my educational exhibit. (She) left a fashion legacy with her brand that has made the world more colorful.”

That legacy of color has found a permanent place in local wardrobes, including that of Elizabeth Kelly Grace, co-founder of Delray Beach’s Buzz Agency public relations group. She said she never met Spade but she’s “certainly a fan of her bags, earrings and accessories,” she said, noting that she happened to be carrying one of her bags on Tuesday.

Standing outside of the Gardens Mall store, Allison Gaudet, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens, mourned Spade’s “innovation and creativity. I love her style,” she said. “She is just whimsical, beautiful, sparkly. I’m a sparkle girl.”

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