New York (CNN) – Kate Brosnahan Spade, the fashion designer and businesswoman, hanged herself in an apparent suicide Tuesday at a New York City apartment, according to a New York Police Department source.
A suicide note was found, a second NYPD source said, adding that the call came in at 10:30 a.m. Spade was found by her housekeeper, the second source said.
Spade, 55, started Kate Spade New York in 1993 and opened her first shop in the city three years later, the company’s website states. Before making the jump to designing, she was a senior fashion editor at the fashion magazine Mademoiselle.
"Debuting with just six silhouettes, she combined sleek, utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes in an entirely new way," the site says.
Best known for its colorful handbags, the company has more than 140 retail shops and outlet stores across the United States and more than 175 stores internationally, the site states.
Over time, she distanced herself from her business. In 1999 she and her husband, Andy Spade, sold 56% of the brand to Neiman Marcus for $33.6 million. Liz Claiborne acquired the company in 2007, and Spade left her namesake brand.
The luxury fashion company Coach announced plans in May 2017 to buy Kate Spade for $2.4 billion.
Kate Spade New York issued a statement confirming the "incredibly sad news" of their eponymous founder’s death.
"Although Kate has not been affiliated with the brand for more than a decade, she and her husband and creative partner, Andy, were the founders of our beloved brand," the statement said. "Kate will be dearly missed. Our thoughts are with Andy and the entire Spade family at this time."
"We honor all the beauty she brought into this world," the company added in a tweet.
More than a purse
Spade was found hanged by a scarf she allegedly had tied to a doorknob, the second NYPD source said.
Her shocking death prompted an outpouring of grief among her fans and her company’s customers, including Chelsea Clinton and romance novelist Alisha Rai.
My grandmother gave me my first Kate Spade bag when I was in college. I still have it. Holding Kate’s family, friends and loved ones in my heart.
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) June 5, 2018
"Everyone remembers their first Kate Spade," CNN White House reporter and former fashion editor Kate Bennett said. "(The brand) became one of those accessible but quirky fun, timeless labels that everyone had to have, and her rise was synonymous with her name."
For many women, a Kate Spade handbag was a bridge between Main Street clothes and high-end fashion, and it functioned as a symbol of professional achievement.
A year into being an attorney, my first splurge on myself was my (still) perfect #KateSpade black purse. Functional, crisp, professional, gorgeous. It takes a beautiful mind to design beautiful things. #RIP pic.twitter.com/NieF3sS7uI
— C???????? (@ChayaBaliga) June 5, 2018
I was 22 when I moved to NYC and got my first real job and it even paid overtime. My first check that had OT hours in it, I set aside that money and bought myself a @katespadeny bag. It was 1998 and I felt so proud and successful. #RIPKateSpade ♥?
— alyssa mastromonaco (@AlyssaMastro44) June 5, 2018
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, which held a star-studded awards ceremony Monday night, posted a statement from Diane von Furstenberg and Steven Kolb saying they were devastated to hear of Spade’s death.
"She was a great talent who had an immeasurable impact on American fashion and the way the world viewed American accessories," the statement said.
Last year, Spade and her husband spoke with NPR’s "How I Built This" about how they developed the company into a major lifestyle brand.
"So, Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant," Kate Spade said, "and he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don’t start a handbag company. And he said, why not? How hard can it be? (Laughter) I thought, OK, really? He regrets those words."
Spade’s apparent suicide comes as suicide rates in the United States increased from 1999 to 2014 for everyone between the ages of 10 and 74, according to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For white women, the suicide rate increased by 60% during that period, the study found.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung and David Williams contributed to this report.