Kate Spade forged the rarest kind of namesake brand—one that made people who bought one of her boxy bags or polka-dot dresses feel as if they'd borrowed a bit the designer's own energy and personal style. So when Spade died last year at 55, many of those same customer's felt a kind of personal loss, as if an old friend was suddenly gone.
Those still searching for a bit of Kate's spirit might find it in Frances Valentine, the lesser-known company Spade founded three years ago her husband, Andy, and best friend and business partner, Elyce Arons. Before Kate's death, they purposefully kept the label small. That ethos remains, but the objective of France Valentine has shifted from a boutique label designed by friends to a place where Spade’s aesthetic could continue.
Arons is one of Spade's oldest friends, and was with Kate and Andy at the birth of the Kate Spade brand. "The early years at Kate Spade were so magical; we really dreamed of going back to those days,” Aron says of Frances Valentine.
They had all taken time off after selling the company to Neiman Marcus in 2006, but were itching for a new project. “We took several years off, which was a lovely thing to be able to do, but after awhile we really wanted to get back to creating things."
After Spade’s suicide in 2018, the Frances Valentine team, many of whom had worked at Kate Spade for years before following Spade and Arons to the new venture, were devastated. “I personally missed Katy, she was my best friend," says Arons. "We were pretty much always together since we were freshmen in college."
Arons has fueled her grief into making Frances Valentine a true reflection of Kate Space. “Katy always had a real point of view, and I admired it so deeply that now I can look at something and say, ‘No, she won’t like that, she doesn’t like that color of purple, never has,” says Arons. “There has always been a feeling to the designs that we created: a longing for the past with a modern sensibility in great colors and shapes. We really dig deep to find those things. I’m harder on myself because I feel like she is sitting at the table with me.”
Two collections in particular, Love, Katy and Gratitude, recreate some of Spade’s most-loved vintage pieces, such as her cardigan jacket and peacock caftan, much to the delight of their devoted fan base, some of whom have been buying Kate Spade’s handbags since she started in 1993. Arons reports that they are on a first name basis with many customers and that she loves the ongoing dialogue with them.
To further connect with their customers, this summer Frances Valentine is stepping out with a pop-up shop in the Hamptons in front of Sagtown Coffee on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. It will include clothing from the Love Katy and Gratitude collections, as well as a curated selection of home goods and summer essentials. “It’s so nice to say hello to people,” Arons said. “All of this is about making things that women love, things that make them happy, her spirit really lives on here.”
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