Kate Spade is a name that’s been around since the early 1990s and up until recent years, the brand and its creator were synonymous. But after selling her company in 2006 and changing her legal surname, the designer we know and love has returned but this time, as Frances Valentine.
A mash-up of monikers derived from Kate’s family history, Frances Valentine is a passion project started by Kate, her husband Andy Spade and two long-time friends and former Kate Spade colleagues, Paola Venturi and Elyce Arons. Adhering to that same quirky, playful aesthetic we fell in love with so many years ago, Frances Valentine is focusing all their energy on solely handbags and shoes—transforming them in ways that speak to the kind of woman that Kate has now become.
“Well, I like to say ‘I have evolved,’ but to put it another way, it just means I have grown up a bit,” Kate explained. “I took some time off to be with my daughter as she was growing up, but all of us love creating accessories and just seemed ready to begin again. I’ve always adored shoes, bags, and jewelry and love creating pieces that make you feel good and want to have them.”
For Kate, who began her career as an accessories designer back in 1993, Frances Valentine is all about getting back to her roots and centering her collections around what she knows best and really loves to do. This time around, the designer is focusing less on market expectations and more on honing her craft, including the incorporation of architectural influences and bringing an overall fresh perspective. Aside from the company name, there is a personal attachment to everything that Frances Valentine creates, including naming their styles after members of the founder’s friends and family.
But as the saying goes, the devil really is in the details and for Frances Valentine, it is what truly sets them apart from the rest. “For me, each shoe or bag has to have a reason for being and a distinct point of view,” explained Kate. Utilizing specialty hardware, leathers and unique fabrics, the majority of Frances Valentine’s products are handmade in Italy and Spain. But when it comes to collaboration, the team’s design process, Kate added, takes place right from their New York City studio. “We work together on all parts of the business. We start by looking at sketches and Skype with Paola in Italy often in the initial phases. It is a very personal process, and we all contribute our own ideas. Paola works on specifications, Andy works with me on the shapes and colors and initial concepts. But really, we work together on all aspects.”
Every pair of shoes can take up to two full days to complete, Kate admitted modeling their signature heel after Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome—a structure that was sculpted to be both elegant yet stable at the same time. “I’m often inspired by what I see and what I love. People ask if we use themes each season, we don’t. Collections are led by my moods and how I am feeling. It is all very personal.” To put it simply, each collection is made up of Kate’s favorites—from fuzzy pom pom slides to bejeweled metallic flats, they have that extra special element that toes the line between sophistication and whimsy.
Currently, Frances Valentine can be found in select Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom stores throughout the U.S., as well as specialty boutiques and on their e-commerce site. While the brand’s distribution is considerably limited, that’s a purposeful move on behalf of the Frances Valentine team who believe it’s best to pace themselves in order for the company to grow at a steady rate.
In terms of future endeavors, Kate mentioned perhaps venturing further into the accessories realm but insisted that the team isn’t in any rush. “Right now we are focusing on our bags and shoes – the core of the brand, though we do also have one style of sunglasses and some straw hats. I love jewelry and have considered expanding in that area, but for now, we are taking it slowly and just enjoying what we are doing.”
When it comes down to it, Frances Valentine captures that same intrinsic, feminine charm that us women of the ‘90s fell in love with. And although the name change might throw you, make no mistake that the designer’s return to the fashion world is nothing short of quintessential Kate.