There once was the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Now there’s the fashion icon formerly known as Kate Spade.
You can call her Kate Valentine. She sold off her famous brand a decade ago and, just recently, decided her own name could go with it.
Now she’s back with a new accessories company, Frances Valentine – the inspiration behind her name change.
She may have grown into a New York woman, but Kate will always be a Kansas City kind of girl. She says the Midwest inspired her design sensibility.
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“I remember someone once said there is a practical aspect to my designs, and I remember thinking that doesn’t sound so creative but that is actually the truth,” Kate told me from her home in New York. “There is a practicality to it. I don’t design just to design. There is a reason and hopefully an interesting reason behind it – that is where my creativity comes in.”
And one thing Kate has never lacked is creative mojo. In 1993, she left her job as accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine to start Kate Spade New York with her advertising executive husband, Andy Spade. At the time, most high fashion bags stuck with neutral color palettes, typical shapes and the occasional all-over logo prints. Her purses were a success because she brought in the whimsy, playing with color, silhouette and, my favorite part, inside jokes.
One of my first Kate Spade New York bags was a Christmas gift. It was a bright-yellow satchel that made me smile every time I unzipped it: The interior was lined with polka-dots.
Frances Valentine is not much of a departure. The price range is about the same, $300-$600. For now, the focus is strictly shoes and handbags. The biggest change, she says, is she is re-entering an industry that now relies more on social media and e-commerce than brick-and-mortar stores. But the colors and cheeky styles? The fun little details that make Kate the designer we love? She’s here.
“I am not a different person,” says Kate, 53. “The aesthetic is the same as it was when I started in ‘93, but it has evolved. I am paying more attention to the architecture, to the shape of the heel, the point of the toe, the sculptural details of the bag. It is all very interesting to me and I can make that as basic as I want as long as there is a sense of ‘Oh my God, I have to have you.’”
Chic with a wink
She, her husband and their longtime friends and business partners Elyce Arons and Paola Venturi, have kept true to Kate’s original vision. Even the France Valentine basic ballet flat comes in shiny patent leather with a buckle on the toe. She has the classic black, white and camel. But she’s still herself: chic with a wink. So there are bright greens, pinks and yellows, too.
As soon as I saw the Pippa, a wicker basket with pink metallic leather straps and vivid floral print lining, I knew the purse was her design.
Those are the sorts of little things that she looks for as a shopper – like the gold Lanvin cape she spotted from the back of a taxi.
“We were driving up the street and I’m on my way home and I see this thing in the window, just a glimpse of it and I called my husband and asked him if he could drop by Lanvin and see if it was something I might like. He couldn’t believe it but he went by, called me and told me I was going to love it. And it’s like ‘Oh my God,’ I am going to wear it in Kansas City.”
Now Kate has pulled her sketch pads back out. She’s designing again. FrancesValentine.com is live and open for business. And Kate’s daughter is a sentimental part of the brand. Her daughter’s name is Frances, named after Kate’s dad and brother. Valentine is the middle name of her mother’s dad. He was born on Valentine’s Day.
“I think what’s nice is that she gets to see both the stay-at-home mom and the working mom and know there is an option,” Kate says “One is not better than the other. It’s my choice and that’s amazing. And even though we’re launching the new brand, she is my priority. And I’m still making time for class mom duty.”
Kate. Call her a Spade or a Valentine, she’s a designer with heart.