When Kate and Andy Spade decided to throw their hat back into the fashion ring, the focus was footwear — a move that says something about the heat surrounding shoes.
The duo, plus former Kate Spade colleagues and now business partners Paola Venturi, formerly of Via Spiga, and Elyce Arons, have their sights on the white-hot accessory space for the launch of their new brand, Frances Valentine.
The nifty moniker is a combination of Kate and Andy’s daughter’s first name and an old family middle name.
The market is much more saturated than it was in 1993, when the couple started Kate Spade based on a cool, compact handbag. The brand became a runway hit and Kate Spade herself became an emblem of what a woman with distinctive Americana style, clever marketing and social graces could achieve — paving the way for Tory Burch, Jenni Kayne, Aerin Lauder and other lifestyle brands.
But even though it’s a different era, Kate Valentine — as the former Kate Spade now goes by to prevent confusion with the namesake brand she and her husband left in 2006 after Neiman Marcus sold it to Liz Claiborne — still has the same throwback glamour and knack for witty fashion references.
The new team also is tapping into Andy Spade’s instinct for irreverent branding (from the very Wes Anderson scarlet-and-Botticelli-blue packaging to the creative output of the brand) and Arons and Venturi’s business and design know-how.
It helps that the self-funded quartet has also zeroed in on a shoe sweet spot: Made in Italy (and Spain, for espadrilles), but at a price point that hovers under designer level. The 30-style shoe collection opens at $295 for asymmetrical jute-soled slides and tops off at $725 for geometric-heel boots. (The bulk of the collection runs from $295 to $495.)
From their new light-filled show-room overlooking Bryant Park, which is filled with pieces from the Spades’ vast art collection and feels more like a West Village townhouse than an office, Elyce, Kate and Andy sat down with Footwear News to answer the question, “why shoes?” — and what’s different this time around.
“Well, I’m home by 6pm every night for dinner,” said Valentine. “That’s definitely different than how it was with my first business. But since I left, I’ve been so focused on being a mom and being involved in every aspect of my daughter’s life,” she said of Frances Beatrix Spade, now 10.
“She doesn’t need us to be around her all the time now, and actually likes a bit of independence,” said Andy, who has filled his time with various branding endeavors, including natty loungewear line Sleepy Jones. “We wanted to show her this whole other side of her mom — the working woman.”
What sparked the desire to give business another go? “I probably started the conversation,” said Arons, who met Valentine at the University of Kansas — and they’ve been best friends ever since. “A few years ago, we were at Minetta Tavern celebrating my birthday, and this was my wish. We all just love shoes, so that became the focal point.”
Valentine agreed that looking back on her former life, it was footwear — not handbags, fragrances, clothing or home goods ( just a few of the Kate Spade cat- egories) that she truly enjoyed creating.
“I love all the details and character you can evoke with shoes. They are charming objects and the most rewarding to make,” she said.
Retailers were also ready for the power couple’s return. Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Shopbop and Zappos Couture scooped up the line’s bejeweled, square-toe Mary Janes, modernist ballerinas with metal adornment mimicking the curve of a potato chip and strappy python heels with tufts of marabou at the toe for spring ’16.
“We loved the shoes as soon as we saw them and thought the line felt fresh,” said Erica Russo, Bloomingdale’s OVP and fashion director of accessories and beauty. “We are particularly excited about a jeweled block-heel sandal done in the perfect nude patent leather.”
To explore the Frances Valentine spring ’16 collection, click through the slideshow below.