The other day I was helping a middle-aged woman check out with her order, and I watched as she placed a slightly-worn wallet down on the counter between us. In small raised gold letters, the name kate spade stood out above the black leather. In an instant, I wondered what that name — and that brand — now holds for this woman, and for others. What role does it play in their fashion sense, in their estimation of what displaying this iconic logo on a purse or shoes or belt might now symbolize?
My second thought after recognizing the tiny gold letters was this: the name of a prominent fashion pioneer has taken on new meaning. On June 5, 2018, Kate Spade took her life. She, the woman, no longer exists. But the products she developed are still ubiquitous. The namesake brand that has represented quality, sophistication, and style for many years has not necessarily shifted in identity. Those traits remain. Though the importance of that name — perhaps even its jurisdiction, its sphere of social influence — may have.
As I processed the order, the urge to ask this woman about her perception of the logo on her wallet rose in my mind. But I quickly assessed that such a inquiry coming from a stranger would not be proper; in fact, the question would be so charged with threatening energy that she may have been rendered speechless. Obviously, I did not want to create an extremely uncomfortable moment for her — or for me. Yet inside my brief period of curiosity and reticence lies a question. And perhaps an opportunity.
Speaking about what Kate Spade chose to do is, I believe, inherently difficult because it causes most individuals to at least consider having an internal dialogue about an act that elicits tremendous uneasiness. Suicide. More than ever, though — especially in light of Anthony Bourdain’s choice to end his life only days after Spade’s tragic demise — we need to hold these conversations. And we need to open spaces for those dialogues to occur, spaces without shame or criticism or the fear of dismissal. But how do we accomplish this?
For a moment the other day I considered initiating such a conversation with a stranger, but the unspoken guidelines of appropriate social discourse dampened that impulse. However, I wonder if similar constraints largely inhibit — and perhaps prohibit — those conversations among friends, between partners, and with children. Suicide is a scary subject. And the conditions that can lead to suicide — depression, loneliness, and low self-image among others — are often just as scary.
So too often, I fear, we simply don’t consider raising the topic of suicide with anyone — stranger or loved one. And I believe that needs to change. Because we are all so much more than just our names.