For some, Kate Spade’s purses posed as protection from outside scrutiny. For others, they were an anecdote in greater love stories, a gift that represented so much more. For still others, they were a first splurge after getting a raise, or rewards for a job well done.

Author Melanie Hauser, who writes as Melanie Benjamin, always felt a Kate Spade bag was aspirational – just out of reach. She promised herself that if she ever had a New York Times bestseller, she’d buy one.

After she earned the accolade for The Aviator’s Wife, she made good on that deal. She landed on a subtle beige tote that to her screamed “serious author”.

Today, Hauser has other Kate Spade purses that are more colourful and fun. She said that Spade’s brand is a go-to reward for success, and the designer’s look became synonymous with strong femininity. “She kind of puts the power in girl power, in a way,” Hauser said.

Tracy Russo is a political consultant living in Florence, Italy. But in the 1990s, she was still an American teenager with jobs at the mall and movie theatre.  She saved every penny for one of Kate Spade’s iconic Sam bags, which cost hundreds of dollars.

It was her first big investment, and the most expensive clothing item she owned. She still stores her Sam bag in her parents’ closet stateside. “I knew I would have it forever,” Russo said. “I knew it was a piece that I just loved.”

For Russo, Spade was not only a designer. She was a business owner who empowered women in the workforce. “I think it’s about more than the fact that she’s created pretty things,” Russo said.

Cindy Pon stood alongside other 20-somethings as they waited for a glimpse at the merchandise. Back in the ’90s, it seemed that everyone who worked in the admissions office at New York University had a black Kate Spade purse – everyone except her.

Surrounded by hip coworkers who wore designer labels, Pon knew she needed something to make her look less out of place. So when she heard the designer was holding a sample sale, she felt it was her time to get in on the trend.

“It was like Disneyland for Kate Spade purses,” remembered Pon.  She ended up with two purses and a wallet, and remains a customer to this day. – AP

Love From Malaysia

Kate Spade made its Malaysian debut in 2010 and has been immensely popular. Here’s what fans had to say about the designer’s death.

“I fell in love with Kate Spade when I worked for the brand in Malaysia. Although no longer affiliated with it, she is still the founder. And the news comes as a big shock. A loss of someone so talented.” – Rusydiana Roslam, 34, communications manager.

“She has managed to design bags that ‘fashion girls’ not only could afford, but look good with too. It’s hard to go wrong with a Kate Spade bag. As she had worked for a fashion magazine before, I guess she knew what we needed.” – Shakila Rajendra, 35, sustainability head.

“I’m a big fan, with more than a dozen bags from the brand. The very first time I stepped into a Kate Spade boutique was in San Francisco. I was studying there at that time, and I remember falling in love with their colourful and playful store display.” – Sarah Tan, 44, creative director.

“A friend introduced me to the brand. I loved the simple yet trendy designs. The first bag I purchased was from New York itself. I’m just sad that one of the better designers I can identify with will no longer be around.” – Elle Tan, 39, brand manager.

“The first time I visited a Kate Spade boutique was actually in Japan. I think Kate Spade, and later the brand, has been very clever to play with vibrant colours and bold designs to help bring out the confidence in women. – Irene Shukri, 26, executive.

“My mum bought me my first Kate Spade backpack when I was about 12 in New York. In KL, I hosted many events and styling sessions for the brand. Kate Spade isn’t just about the products, it’s a lifestyle and explosion of personality!” – Lexie Rodriguez, 32, event host and local personality.

“I was shocked when I got the news. Her death reminds us all to be kind to each other. When I started my own footwear brand, Kate Spade was the designer I looked to. She was an inspiration.” – Nelissa Hilman, 35, fashion designer.

Additional reporting by Bervin Cheong.