What Kate Spade Taught Me
It seems that just about everyone in this fashion-savvy slice of the internet has been speaking up and reminiscing about their first Kate Spade piece. In the wake of the designer's tragic suicide, it's become abundantly clear that her colorful designs and vibrant creations have touched so many of us, which makes her passing hit somewhat close to home. I'll be the first to admit that her style was not quite my aesthetic, and though I did own a few pieces, they got very little wear. It's become easy to brush off celebrity deaths. It's difficult to keep up with them and when they do occur, it seems that they're merely a catalyst for a self-centered social media spectacle. Because of this, I didn't want to talk about Kate Spade, her death, or even her legacy—especially because as an artist, she didn't affect or inspire me, and any sort of sentiment shared about here would be somewhat disingenuous in that way. However, the more I read about her, the more I saw of myself and so many of my contemporaries.
There's a lot of speculation about Ms. Spade's mental health. I'm certainly not one to delve into that discussion because I didn't know her personally and I'm not a mental health professional. I will say though, the devastating nature of her death is in such start contrast to the effervescence of the brand that she built. It's rumored that Ms. Spade was reluctant to seek help for her alleged mental illness because it wouldn't support the bright, colorful vibe that she was cultivating and that she was best known for because of her brand. It seems silly in hindsight. Of course a human life is more valuable than any curated aesthetic, or even a business empire. But how many of us are guilty of our own micro versions of this? So often I find fashion and social media a form of escapism from my own tragedies. On one hand, Instagram is a creative outlet that's easy to keep up with. No harm in that, right? But sometimes, I find myself longing for the life of the person I accidentally portray, and I don't think that's okay. Neglect begets larger issues. And it's a problem that's so much larger than just me.
I've been taking small breaks for social media because I find it difficult to reconcile my personal struggles—which I know no one wants to hear about—with the more charming parts of my life. The clothes I wear, the coffees I drink. When it comes to growing an audience and producing sponsors, woe doesn't pay the bills. We're all trying to get ahead but we're desperately losing touch with our fundamental humanness in the process. When our daily lives and personalities become mere facets of our brands, the line between what is performative and what is innate is blurred. The pressure for bloggers (influencers, as I'm told we like to be called these days) to keep up picture-perfect appearances is immense, but the burden truly falls on those who follow along and can often feel "less than" for working a "normal job" or not living in the most impeccably-decorated midcentury modern home. (As one of those many in-between people, I can feel both, and I know that a lot of my peers who are reading this fall in the same category.)
I'm not sure how to fix it. I do know that the statistics don't lie though. The American Psychiatric Association says that frequent use of social media is linked to higher instances of depression and anxiety. Transparency is a value we should all strive for, and ending the stigma of mental illness is definitely a lofty but sensible overarching ideal. For those of us who hope to pay a part in doing that, I think we should be asking ourselves more than just, "what was my first Kate Spade purchase?" We should be asking, "when was the last time I confided my troubles with a friend, or even just journaled about them?" Or, more importantly, "when was the last time I checked in on a friend in need?" Or, "when was the last time someone checked in on me?" One Kate Spade headline that stuck with me was one in which a friend of hers said, "there is no place lonelier than the top." We all need a friend. Full stop. No matter where we are, no matter who we are, whether we're chasing success or content to live a quiet, out-of-the-way life, we need to be looked after and to look after in the same way.
If you're hurting and feel pressure to keep up with a happy-go-lucky appearance, talk to someone you trust and ask them to discreetly work with you get the assistance you need. If you know someone who may be struggling with depression or generally troubling thoughts, but you don't know for sure, it never hurts to simply ask how they are. If there's anything that's come out of the stories of Kate Spade's passing, it's that this world is getting harsher and harsher, and more often than not, there are multiple things keeping us from feeling that we can ask for the help we need. Small gestures go a long way. Don't be afraid to reach out, whether you're in need or just want to make sure someone you care about is alright.
All of these words were to say that much: it's hard out there. Reach out and tell someone you love them. It's good for both of you.