Fashion designer Kate Spade found dead in New York

Kate Spade, a fashion designer known for her sleek handbags, was found dead in her Park Avenue apartment Tuesday, police said. She was 55.

Designer's line of handbags in 1990s grew into an international brand, retail chain

Designer Kate Spade, seen here in 2004 posing with handbags and shoes from her collection, has died at 55. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Kate Spade, a fashion designer known for her sleek handbags, was found dead in her Park Avenue apartment in New York Tuesday in an apparent suicide, police said. She was 55.

Spade's body was found by a housekeeper not long after 10 a.m., police said at an afternoon news conference. Her husband and business partner, Andy Spade, was in the apartment at the time. The couple's 13-year-old daughter was at school.

The police department's chief of detectives, Dermot Shea, said that while investigators were still in the early stages of their inquiry, evidence including the state of the apartment and the presence of a note pointed to suicide.

It's not clear how long Spade had been dead. The medical examiner will perform an autopsy.

"We are all devastated by today's tragedy," her family said in a statement through a spokesperson.

"We loved Kate dearly and will miss her terribly. We would ask that our privacy be respected as we grieve during this very difficult time."

A medical examiner arrives at Spade's Park Avenue home in New York City. Spade's body was found by a housekeeper on Tuesday morning. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

A crime scene truck was parked outside their building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Barriers had been set up to keep back reporters and gawkers who were arriving at the building.

The company she founded, Kate Spade New York, now has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the U.S. and more than 175 shops internationally.

"Kate will be dearly missed," said Julia Curry, a spokesperson for the company.

"Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time."

Neva Hall, executive vice-president at Neiman Marcus Stores, said the news was devastating.

"Her creative light and bright mind will be greatly missed," Hall wrote in a statement.

Models present creations from the Kate Spade spring/summer 2014 collection during New York Fashion Week in September 2013. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Midwestern roots

Kate Spade was born Katherine Brosnahan and grew up in Kansas City, Mo.

In 1993, after having worked as an accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Spade launched her company with husband Andy (brother of comedic actor David Spade) from their apartment. She started the company based on six shapes of bags that she thought every working woman needed. It was a smash.

"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.

She was always just as happy and delightful as her collection.- Fern Mallis, industry consultant

"For our customers, fashion is in the right place in their life. It's an adornment, not an obsession."

From the original boxy handbags, she expanded into shoes, luggage and other accessories, as well as a home line, stationery, and three books.

Spade said she wasn't obsessed with fashion, or interested in trends. She tried jeans, for example, decided they didn't look good on her, and moved on.

She won multiple awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which paid tribute in a statement Tuesday early afternoon.

"The CFDA is devastated to hear the news of our friend, colleague, and CFDA member Kate Spade's tragic passing," president Diane von Furstenberg and CEO Steven Kolb said in a joint statement.

"She was always just as happy and delightful as her collection was," said Fern Mallis, industry consultant and former CFDA director. "She was every bit the representation of that brand, and the fun of it all."

Having a Spade bag "was a sign that you were in the know," said Eric Wilson, fashion news director at InStyle.

"You associated yourself with this fun, cool, with-it, hip brand that wasn't snobbish or so exclusive that it felt like a European luxury brand."

Wilson recalled often finding her in her store, helping shoppers. "Often I would walk in and I'd see her there serving customers, not telling them, 'I'm Kate Spade' or Kate Valentine, her other alias, but just helping people," he said.

"I found her to be just down to earth, a normal mom, talking about the trials and tribulations of raising a child and life in the city."

A clerk works at a new Kate Spade store in Tokyo in March 2013. Coach, now known as Tapestry, bought the Kate Spade brand last year, seeking to broaden its appeal. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

After having sold half of her namesake company to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999, Kate and Andy Spade sold their remaining interest to the group in 2006.

Coach, now known as Tapestry, bought the Kate Spade brand last year for $2.4 billion US, seeking to broaden its appeal.

In 2016, Spade and her husband launched Frances Valentine, a new fashion line named after their daughter, who was born in 2005.

The designer had changed her name to Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade, she told NPR in an interview earlier this year.

Her death came the morning after virtually the entire New York fashion industry had gathered at the Brooklyn Museum for the glitzy annual CFDA awards. 

"Nobody could have ever anticipated that the next day, this was the news that would be flashing on our phones," said Mallis.

"You just never know the demons that people are dealing with."

Spade, right, is seen with her daughter, Frances, in 2009. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (Chat)

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Here are some warning signs: 

Suicidal thoughts.
Substance abuse.
Feeling trapped.
Hopelessness and helplessness.
Mood changes.

With files from CBC News