Kate Spade’s Death Is A Lesson In The Price Of Illusion

yellow handbag

I was standing in the immigration queue at JFK when the news of Kate Spade’s suicide flashed on the TV screens in the hall there. It was all the more shocking because, even if you don’t believe in that ultimately empty trope about having it all, Spade, one of the fashion industry’s more discreet, more down-to-earth individuals, really did seem to have a lot: husband (and business partner) she’d been married to for 24 years, a longed-for child, one business empire already behind her- she cashed out approximately $94 million from Kate Spade- and a nascent label, Frances Valentine, named for her daughter, which she launched in 2015.

At 55 she seemed in her prime.

They’re quite brutal about news delivery in the US. It’s infotainment red in tooth and claw. Snatches of the suicide note she left to her 13 year old daughter Frances Beatrix Spade (“This has nothing to do with you. Don’t feel guilty. Ask your dad”), footage of her body being carried out of the Manhattan apartment block where the Spades lived, complete with selfie-snapping onlookers….all in ad-friendly bite sizes.

Waiting for the passport stamp, I looked up an interview I did with Kate in 2003, parsing it for any clues of the darkness to come. Ghost seeking.

When we met she was delightfully upbeat and strikingly approachable, although for someone who was cheerleading the world into its first steps towards wearing colour after a decade of monochrome, she wore an awful lot of black. When I asked her the question that all women asked (how to incorporate colour into your life), she sweetly suggested a big coloured ring. “Because for a lot of people, colour’s quite scary. You have to take it slowly.” Was this some kind of prophetic metaphor?

Flashbacks to Alexander McQueen’s suicide- in 2010 he too hanged himself – and L’Wren Scott’s suicide in 2014 are inevitable. What about John Galliano’s crazy apparently alchohol-fuelled and self-destructive anti-semitic rant in 2011? Or Claude Montana’s tormented and tormenting relationship with his wife and muse Wallis Franken Montana, which ended when she killed herself in 1996 – a scandal from which his reputation never recovered. And who can forget the tragic early death of fashion stylist Isabella Blow in 2007 after suffering from depression for years and becoming concerned about her career waning?

The journalist Michael Gross famously described the fashion industry as a place filled with beautiful people and ugly deeds. By their private and often suppressed nature, it’s impossible to say whether depression and despair are any more rife in fashion than in other industries. One of the desperately sad aspects to emerge from this latest tragedy was Kate’s sister Reta Saffo saying that the designer’s death was not unexpected and that the pressure of having a famous brand may have both caused her bipolar disorder and also stopped her from getting treatment. “We’d get so close to packing her bags, but in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out,” she told the Kansas City Star.

Yes, the pressures of fashion are immense and public – but that’s also true if you’re a surgeon, a politician or a single parent holding down three jobs. It’s also true that the relentless fixation on surface means there’s an inherent unwillingness to grapple with deeper truths.

The disconnect between being a glazed style plate and the messy reality of being human, add to the weight, sometimes to an unbearable degree. Maintaining a glaze of perfection at all times becomes as much as part of the job as anything else.

Let’s not forget the self-reinvention that is one of fashion’s immutable rules for career advancement. Whether it’s enhancing one’s early childhood to make it seem more aristocratic (a favourite among older-school designers) or emphasising gritty episodes to flesh out a street-cred image, designers especially, often feel they need a dramatic back-story to attract interest and many end up feeling trapped by the contradictions.

André Leon Talley, the cape-wearing, larger than life eminence who for decades abseiled the heights of Mount Fashion as an editor-at-large on American Vogue, last month railed to The New York Times about the way fashion doesn’t care for its people.

Reaction to his comments were mixed, but he certainly encapsulated a tension that whilst not unique in fashion, can be toxic: that of needing to look glossy, successful (read rich) and connected, even when you’re lonely and isolated in a hotel room on peripatetic schedule that would defeat most nomads.

For the most eloquent disquisition on isolation and superficiality, read Joan Juliet Buck’s recent autobiography. Buck, once a mink-and-Cartier-swathed editor-in-chief on French Vogue (and also Von Ackermann’s one time boss – the two did not get on), was eventually “let go” amidst rumours of a number of personal problems. Buck is notably hazy on the details but searingly lucid on how in-thrall she was to the outward trappings of a successful fashion career. The title of her book, The Price of Illusion, says it all.

Interestingly, it has been mooted that Spade may have had financial worries. The same was said of L’Wren Scott, a state of affairs which if true, would have been all the more worrying to Scott whose brand was all about expensive aspiration.

But even rooting a label in a Gothic sensibility, as Lee McQueen did, is no inoculation against external expectations. Those death-obsessed, poetically dark shows of his might have been cathartic, but in the end he still yielded to the demands of being McQueen.

Kate Spade’s business and persona were predicated on a sunny, upbeat quintessentially American interpretation of chic. As the tributes on social media and the floral offerings laid outside the 200-plus Kate Spade stores across the world suggest, her playful but ultimately pragmatic aesthetic touched millions of women. Her death, however, is a reminder that outward glamour is, by definition, a chimera. We should all, in an age of endless self-branding, be wary of the price of illusion.

Natural Ways To Brighter Eyes

close up pink flower

You’ve probably noticed that D.I.Y beauty – whizzing up ingredients to make your own cosmetics – has become a bit of a trend. Well, with all respect to the millennials who are all over #Instagram with their home-made beauty treats, we’ve been doing it since we were teenagers ourselves. Here’s what we’ve always known: making your own beauty treats is fun. (Especially if you do it with a friend/child/goddaughter.) It’s easy. And because these little beauty treats are packed with lashings of botanical ingredients, they can  can be super-effective. Read More…

Audrey Hepburn

audrey hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Born in 1929, Audrey Hepburn, actress and humanitarian, would have been 86 this year and no doubt would have been as graceful, elegant and relevant as she was in her short life.

Her health story begins during the war years and ends when Audrey died, from a very rare form of cancer, in 1993, aged 63. This article is a respectful examination of her life in health, as researched via numerous biographies.

Audrey Hepburn and General health

The war left some lingering effects on Audrey, such as disheartening memories and ongoing health problems that would include anaemia and respiratory problems. She is said too, to have suffered with anxiety and stress.

Audrey Hepburn and Weight issues

Growing up during the war in Nazi occupied Holland, Audrey and her family had suffered extreme food shortages. She had experienced near starvation, and witnessed worse, and had never forgotten it. She said that “I actually got angry with it for being so difficult to come by and tasting so awful. I decided to master food; I told myself I didn’t need it.” She said that she ‘resented’ food. For most of her adult life she weight around 100lb (approx 7st) and at 5ft 7in was painfully thin. Read More…



Autumn’s drier air can strip skin of its natural moisture, leaving it feeling uncomfortable and tight. During this change, skin needs extra support and protection, and my Autumn Facial Oil contains vital essential oils and flower essences to help the health and appearance of the skin through this specific season, decongesting, warming, smoothing and toning. On an emotional level, the oil helps to balance the emotions and help bring clarity, positivity and focus to thoughts, to combat the sluggishness that can happen during the change from the warmer, brighter climate, to a cooler, more invigorating, month.

I firmly believe that we should live in harmony with the natural cycles of our environment, and Autumn is a time of harvest, richness and preparing for the winter to come. Autumn can be expressed in a time of addressing the core issues within ourselves, and clearing out the mental, emotional and physical clutter that will pave the way to a stress-free winter.

Within this new blend, I have incorporated a selection of essential oils, including Jasmine Sambac, to inspire optimism and confidence, Geranium Bourbon to balance and harmonise; Honeysuckle to promote vitality and act as an anti-inflammatory; Sandalwood to revive and rejuvenate as well as Patchouli, to ground the emotions. Citrus notes in the form of Grapefruit, Green Mandarin and Lemon help to energise, cleanse and focus the spirit. Read More…



In Summer, the young energy that arose in Spring expands to its maximum potential. Summer holds the power of maturity: the buds of spring mature into full flowers and now are able to share their pollen to make more flowers.

Ancient Chinese believed that we should live in harmony with the natural cycles of our environment and recognise the naturally occurring ebb and flow of energy reflected in our bodies. De Mamiel Summer Facial Oil is blended to work in synergy with these changes and put back what nature takes out at a time when it is needed.

In Summer, the energy of Fire allows us to give and receive warmth. By giving and sharing, we build our own Fire, open our own flower, and bring more of the summer sun to the world. It is time to enjoy the fruit from the seeds we have planted and the visions and plans we have made. Only in the fullness of maturity do we have the inner abundance and self-sufficiency to truly share with others.

Summer supports you in enriching your enjoyment of life. It is an invitation to savour life.

Read More…



After a winter rest, the power of springtime surges through nature and through us. Ancient Chinese believed that we should live in harmony with the natural cycles of our environment and recognize the naturally occurring ebb and flow of energy reflected in our bodies. de Mamiel Spring Facial Oil is blended to work in synergy with these changes and put back what nature takes out at a time when it is needed.

Spring is the perfect time to do two things: Release and Express. The expansive energy of the new season is outward moving, so we are primed to move stagnant, useless, sluggish and weary ways out of our bodies and lives and release the heaviness that has been stored all winter. We need to rid the body of toxins and let go to allow new growth to come through. Once we do this, we are freed up to start over, grow freshly, heal, create, and share our new blossoms with the world! Read More…