Kate Spade in her living room.

The colourful whimsy of Frances Valentine will always be Kate Spade

It was time to take a break, she said, when Kate Spade sold her company she built with her husband Andy Spade and her other two partners Elcye Arons and Pamela Bell, to Neiman Marcus. Kate raised her daughter for about 9 years. When her daughter was becoming independent at 12, Kate decided to join the world of fashion again.

When she came back to work she decided to focus on shoes and accessories in addition to handbags for their new venture, Frances Valentine, which Andy refers to as a startup on the Build Series online show. 

She answered the question that people always seem to ask of mothers in the workforce. She said that she enjoyed being a mother but found it easy to separate her work life from family life.

Kate said that coming back and starting again was a little slower than she had anticipated and Andy, who comes from an advertising background, noted that the nature of business today is very different from 10 years ago when they left. 

Kate started her namesake company on her own, in 1993, without any experience, without a fashion degree. She inspired a lot of people, her husband said, to start their own companies, and now we’re competing with them. You did a terrible job there, by the way, he added, to laughter. The world is different now from the way it was 10 years ago. We didn’t have social media then, so from a communications and marketing standpoint there’s a lot more that we need to do to get the word out and grow the company. Instead of their being 10 big handbag companies there are hundreds.

Kate graduated with a journalism degree, moved to New York and went to Conde Nast to look for a job. She worked as a fashion editor before starting her company. 

Kate Brosnahan Spade, her real name, was an accessories editor at Mademoiselle. She remembers asking herself, “Did I really go to college?” when she had to tie “14 year-old” Naomi Campbell’s shoes for a Bert Stern photo shoot when she first started out. But, it’s okay to start from the bottom, she said. Stern was a photographer who had shot Marilyn Monroe and Campbell would become a supermodel. She didn’t bend down because she would wrinkle the dress she was wearing for the shoot.

She decided not to continue in journalism and instead set out to design the perfect handbag. She began with six styles in sleek, utilitarian, colorful palettes that caught the eye of millennials and kate spade new york was born. Kate Spade, the woman, became synonymous with the brand. The company’s trademark playful style, bold graphic prints and discrete logo translated into instant recognizability and was coveted all over the world. 

Despite the fact that they branched out into a lifestyle brand that made everything from clothing to jewelry, fashion accessories, fragrance, eyewear, shoes, swimwear, home decor, desk accessories, stationery, tabletop and gifts, the handbag remained the centrepiece. 

In 1999 she and her partners sold 56 per cent of the company they had saved to build to Neiman Marcus for $34 million, and the rest in 2006 for $59 million, according to Forbes.com. One week later Neiman Marcus sold Kate Spade to Liz Claiborne for $124 million. Of the deal, katespade.com says that, “in 2007, Kate turned the reins (over) to design house kate spade & company (formerly known as Liz Claiborne, Inc.). Forbes calls it a rebranding. Finally, in 2017, Tapestry, Inc., the luxury lifestyle brand whose portfolio includes the Coach and Stuart Weitzman brands, bought Kate Spade for $2.4 billion. Tapestry reported that a 33 per cent increase in sales at the end of March 2018 was driven by the acquisition of Kate Spade and organic growth. The media focused on the nine per cent decrease in kate spade new york in-store sales.

Kate was trying to start again. She didn’t change her name, despite what people say, she added to it to avoid confusion, to keep the two companies separate after we sold it, said Andy. He continued to say her name for her. It’s now Katherine Brosnahan Valentine Noel Frances Spade. They themselves, admittedly, were confused in the Build Series interview. In another video where Kate shows her living room to People magazine, she opens the door and introduces herself as Kate Valentine Spade.

They started the new company, Frances Valentine, with partners Elyce Arons and Paola Venturi. Building a great culture where people are happy in the morning, and they love what they do, and it doesn’t have to grow as fast as the Kate Spade brand did. That company “took off without us,” said Andy.

In the very relaxed setting, in front of an audience, they both seemed somewhat nervous, despite the fact that they were making jokes. 

Kate and Andy have been together for over 30 years. Andy was wearing a pair of jeans he said belonged to Kate. She wore them when she was an editor many years ago, held up with the same belt that he was wearing, which he said belonged to him.

They are both a bit quirky. But the brand itself, Kate Spade, was created with the DNA of her personality, Andy said. It was built around her. They both seemed a little bit lost without it, without her identity – their identity. It was his last name to begin with. 

The colourful whimsy of Frances Valentine, will always be Kate Spade. Kate passed away today, at the age of 55. It was said that she took her own life. She left a note for her daughter Frances Beatrix to let her know that her actions had nothing to do with her, to ask her father and he will explain.

In that People magazine showcase of her home, adorned with artwork and keepsakes that took over every surface, they posted a note from Frances Beatrix in a child’s handwriting in orange and green crayon, underneath a drawing of her and her dad, that said, “Dear Papa, Wake me when you get home! Love! Bea!! Kate said the piece was there to show her that her work was just as important as the other prized pieces of art.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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