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.

These Supplements Could Make You Live Longer

Triphala

It’s rare for a week to go by without probiotics hitting the headlines. Over the past few years they have been championed for boosting the levels of good bacteria in your gut. And, a well-balanced, healthy gut as been linked to a stronger immune system, higher energy levels and better skin. More recently, a study has gone one step further and suggested that combining probiotics and an Indian herb could help you help you live longer.

Yes, you read that correctly. A study, published in Scientific Reports, found that when fruit flies were given a blend of probiotics and triphala they lived for up to 66 days rather than the usual 26 – a 60 percent life extension. Before the cynics complain that humans are very different to a mere fruit fly, professor of biomedical engineering at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and senior author of the study, Satya Prakash told Science Daily, ‘The fruit fly is remarkably similar to mammals with about 70 percent similarity in terms of their biochemical pathways, making it a good indicator of what would happen in humans.’

Admittedly, it is likely that the results would be less spectacular in humans, but Prakash is adamant, ‘A diet specifically incorporating triphala along with these probiotics will promote a long and healthy life.’

So, what is triphala?

A blend of three fruits (amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki), triphala has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It’s often referred to as ‘tummy tonic’ and is used for constipation. It is good at alleviating stubborn constipation and detoxifying your body. Last year, a study described triphala as key for, ‘efficient digestion, absorption, elimination, and rejuvenation’. You might not have come across them previously, but triphala supplements are available – Pukka Herbs Wholistic Triphala, £15.45, is a good place to start. 

What about probiotics?

It’s generally considered that most people would benefit from taking a good quality probiotic supplement, as a lot of us don’t eat enough fibre or fermented foods to get sufficient amounts of good bacteria. Whether you want to drink or swallow your bacteria, there is a supplement to suit your needs. Shabir regularly recommends Mega Probiotic ND, £19.50, by Food Science of Vermont, because the supplement contains eight strains of the most researched beneficial bacteria and is a very good all-rounder.

How to find the right probiotic for you

There are hundreds of different probiotic supplements available and it can be incredibly confusing. If you’re looking for something more targeted, it’s worth taking the time to read Shabir’s piece on What Can’t Probiotics Do, which outlines the best probiotic depending on your concern.

While a brand is yet to create the winning combination of probiotic and triphala in one capsule, at least we can introduce both into our routine and who knows, we might live until we’re 100.

The Scene

blue fan on wooden desk

A crowded restaurant on a warm evening. The problem: my menopausal friends getting hot and bothered. The solution: FanU, a phone-sized, lightweight portable cool air fan, which Gill Sinclair, joint founder of Victoria Health, pulled triumphantly from her handbag. It’s a must for anyone with hot flushes, due to hormones or chemotherapy, or simply because it’s hot outside (here’s hoping). With a USB and rechargeable battery, £9.99, in white or pink. Read More…

Do You Have Highly Functioning Anxiety?

Anxiety

At one point or another all of us have experienced stress and anxiety. In fact, according to recent headlines 82 percent of us feel stressed or anxious at least once during the working week. Would you regard yourself as having highly functioning anxiety though? While it’s not medically recognised, the term is becoming increasingly common. Read More…

Boost Your Mood With Herbal Heroes

holy basil

Q: I would like to find an all-round natural supplement. A friend mentioned she takes an adaptogen: what are they, and how do I choose one for my over-busy lifestyle?

A: I’ve always liked the concept that adaptogens – natural substances that improve your body’s ability to adapt to stress, both physical and mental– go where they are needed at the time, acting on multiple parts of the body to strengthen weakness and bring balance.

According to medical herbalist Katie Pande: ‘Adaptogenic herbs are said to have a normalising effect on the body and mind, reducing the negative changes that can happen in your body in response to stress.’ Read More…

How To Beat Adult Acne

Lisa Armstrong: How to beat adult acne with this £9 super-serum

 

  • GOW Niacinamide

    Truly, the Lord giveth and taketh away. On the credit side, She has endowed women with the wherewithal to look better for longer and longer. But She has also promulgated widespread outbreaks of what is euphemistically called adult-onset acne (or as it referred to in common parlance, ‘Seriously?!’)

    Ironically, sometimes the very tools we use to boost our wellbeing are the culprits in the Great Zit Disaster. Too little oestrogen and too much testosterone can disrupt service, leading to eruptions more akin to cysts or boils than normal pimples. Adjusting your levels can result in immediate improvements – checking your HRT/bio-identical hormone or Pill prescription should be your first step.

    And then generally easing up. No squeezing – it’s not just the potential scarring, but the chain reaction beneath the skin that’s counterproductive…

    What Your Skin Says About you Read More…