Kate and Andy Spade launch a new shoe and handbag brand with partners Elyce Arons and Paola Venturi.
NEW YORK - Kate and Andy Spade are aware of the power of a name. They
put a lot of thought into what to call their new company, settling upon
Frances Valentine for the shoe and handbag line that launches for spring and
is opening for press previews today. (The nameKate Spade is already in use.)
Frances is a longtime family name on my dads side, said Kate. My
grandfather, father, brother and my daughters name is Frances. And then
Valentine was my moms dads middle name because he was born on
There were a lot of things we made up and we thought that wasnt feeling
right, said Andy. A persons name felt like this thing that was part of us, that
connection, something real.
Frances Valentine, the brand, is not Kate Spade, the brand. There are big
differences some of them legally mandated so as not to infringe on Kate
Spade & Co. but there are also similarities, including three of the founding
partners the Spades and Elyce Arons, who cofounded Kate Spade in 1993.
Their fourth partner in Frances Valentine is Paola Venturi, who joined the
company Kate Spade in 2001 as design director. All of them walked away
from that company entirely in 2007, a year after it was acquired from the
Neiman Marcus Group for $125 million by the group then known as Liz
Claiborne Inc., which subsequently sold off all its other operations to
transform itself into the current publicly listed Kate Spade & Co. Kate and
Arons have spent the last eight years focusing on their families, while
Venturi went to work for Prada and Andy cofounded Partners & Spade
design studio, the art space Half Gallery, and the pajama brand Sleepy Jones,
while also working on a number of film and photography projects.
To a great extent Frances Valentine is a start-up, beginning much the same
way Kate Spade did in 1993, but the players have more professional
experience and personal financing. The showroom at 80 West 40th Street
here is decorated like a stylishly homey townhouse with furniture from the
Spades former house in Long Island and walls full of art Andy has collected
a Julian Schnabel, an Anna Gaskell. There are no investors besides the four
principals. They each came back to essentially the same role he or she left in
2007 with the exception of Venturi, who is now a full partner because they
enjoyed working together and wanted to build a business. Plus, Spade and
Arons kids are old enough that they dont require full-time attention.
Frances Valentine is beginning with something specific and targeted shoes
and bags only. Someone else said, Oh, I really expected guns-a-blazing, that
you were going to come in with a whole lifestyle brand, said Kate. I said, No,
we wouldnt do that.
Simply modern is the language the group has decided best describes the
collections aesthetic. There is a familiar, wholesome but quirky, colorful
Americana to the look, though everything is produced in Spain and Italy,
where Venturi is based, putting the price points slightly higher than the Kate
Spade of yore. Flat mary jane espadrilles are $275; snakeskin sandals with a
chunky jewel-shaped heel are $625. I feel like the shapes are very sculptural,
said Kate, hesitating a bit before deciding not to apologize for her design
ethos. I cant say that Im a different person than I was when I left. Its not like I
went away for eight years and I came back and Im suddenly Rick Owens.
That didnt happen.
Perhaps Kates ethos hasnt drastically changed in the time since she was last
designing, but the fashion landscape has. The team knows this. Kate Spade
was always a relatively accessible brand, built on Spade and Arons
Midwestern values. They met as teenagers in Kansas, and retain that
sensibility even after decades of privilege in New York City. Part of the
positioning of Frances Valentine was in reaction to Spade and Arons
experience as civilian consumers in their time away from the professional
fashion world. I would go out and look for great shoes and they were priced
really high, said Arons. It was just surprising to me.
Most of the shoe styles in the Frances Valentine collection hover around
$400. Bags, including bucket shoppers in metallic leather and canvas and
envelope clutches, go from $225 to $725.
When Kate Spade started in the early Nineties, there wasnt nearly as much
competition. When we came out, there were only like five accessories houses Prada, Coach was the biggest American, said Andy. We were the first in America to work with nylon. We got lucky, he said of the original Kate
Spade spare, nylon styles. Now, the market is full. A woman doesnt need
shoes; she needs to fall in love with shoes, said Venturi. We have to make her
fall in love.
Although Frances Valentine is new, its management has deep connections in
the industry, putting the company at an advantage. They did market for retail
in August. We were pretty quiet about it, said Arons. But we got the
showroom ready and made the calls and everybody came.
The first collection ships Feb. 1 to retailers including Nordstrom,
Bloomingdales and Shopbop, as well as specialty stores such as Walin& Wolff in Connecticut and Westchester, New York and Gus Mayer in
Birmingham, Ala. There are also plans for their own retail, beginning with a
New York City store, timed to the launch depending on construction. A lease
is being negotiated. First-year sales projections are $1 million through the
companys e-commerce and $4 million through its retail store and wholesale
There is also a vast digital universe that has exploded since the time of the
teams exit from Kate Spade. We had Facebook and MySpace, said Andy
Spade, who is eager to embrace the many digital platforms that exist for film
and photography. It was hard to do before because you could make a film,
but show it where? Youd show it at the CFDA Awards or youd have to have
a screening. Now you can show a 10- to 15-second short all over the world.
Hes already been working on collateral, shooting the shoes and bags against
the desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in California.
In a market that is glutted with every kind of fashion business imaginable, the
Spades and their partners are in a unique position. Its difficult to pinpoint a
parallel, where the founders and namesake built a successful company,
walked away at will and regrouped years later to do something new, while
the original company lives on and thrives. Spade herself said its never been
difficult for her to differentiate between her personal identity and that of the
company that bears her name. But what about Frances Valentine as a design
venture by theKate Spade? Will there be confusion? A transitional period
while people untangle all the creative and business associations?
I dont think so at all, said Kate. I think we will definitely make sure we
distinguish ourselves because we wouldnt want to repeat what weve done or
go head-to-head with our namesake. Thats a goal, for sure.
There are other goals jewelry perhaps, though Kate said as of now, there are
no plans for ready-to-wear. Frances Valentine is not a vanity project. The
partners want to build a business, as they did the first time around. Even if
outside expectations of a new Kate Spade venture are certainly high, from the
inside they insist they have the luxury of low pressure. Thats the beauty of
We dont have a rush schedule, said Andy. We dont have to have growth in
three years to a level thats expected of us. I think well go at a pace thats
comfortable, a realistic one.