Two years after designer Kate Spade’s tragic death, her close friend and business partner has opened up about how she is continuing to keep her legacy alive – while ensuring that the final brand they founded together survives the pandemic.
Elyce Arons, who co-founded Spade’s eponymous label, as well as her second brand Frances Valentine, detailed how the latter has reinvented itself to cater to customers amid COVID-19, while creating products that its late designer would be proud of.
‘I think she would be really thrilled with what we’re doing,’ Elyce, who is CEO of Frances Valentine, told DailyMail.com.
Frances Valentine CEO Elyce Arons tells DailyMail.com how business has boomed during the pandemic thanks to the loyalty of their customers and finding ways to reach new ones
Pop of color: The Frances Valentine aesthetic is cheerful; think patchwork ponchos, pink corduroy pants and red lizard pumps, but they’re also long lasting explains Elyce
Elyce, who first formed a friendship with Kate during childhood, added that their earliest shared experiences with fashion continue to serve as inspiration for Frances Valentine designs today – and she always asks herself whether her late friend would wear the items that they are creating.
‘She and I were both vintage shoppers and we would go vintage shopping together at 18. And those were always our favorite closet, staples and pieces that we loved.
‘So just given how much of the inspiration for our design comes from all those vintage pieces, I think she’d be thrilled. I know she would love everything we’re doing. I always keep it in my mind, “Would Kate wear this?”‘
Out East: Frances Valentine offered personal delivery for shoppers in the Hamptons and little touches like handwritten notes in packages
Elyce was a founding partner in the late Kate Spade’s eponymous fashion label in 1994, selling her shares in 2007 before the two went on to launch Frances Valentine in 2016, working together until Kate’s sad passing in 2018.
Elyce explains how the business she’s been carrying on was hit by the pandemic in mid-March: ‘I think we were probably all in a panic for those first few weeks.
‘Everything pretty much slowed down and I think that’s across the board for every business person. But it really started to pick up again in early April for us, our online business has just been incredible,’ she adds.
‘Month over month, it just gets better and better and better. We had to close our stores down, but we reopened those in June again, and they slowly have come back to life.
‘We had a few customers right at the beginning, but we’re probably up to about 40 per cent of the customers coming in that we were a year ago at this time.’
So how has the New York City based company managed to succeed during such uncertain economic times, especially in a place which saw many of it’s residents fleeing in droves? ‘It’s both the loyalty of our current customers, but also the new customers who find us and they are delighted to find it’, Elyce says.
Frances Valentine saw an eCommerce uptick from existing customers thanks to schemes like their loyalty program, personal delivery for shoppers in the Hamptons and little touches like handwritten notes in packages.
Best friends: Kate Spade and Elyce Arons (pictured) were founding partners in the eponymous fashion label before the two went on to launch Frances Valentine in 2016
But they also adjusted their business model to be more social media savvy, pivoting from trunk shows to Instagram live events.
‘Now as the business has grown I really feel responsible. I have to do it more often.’
The small brand also launched the ‘Healthcare Hero’ initiative which saw them sell their iconic Top Handle Kate Totes for $50 instead of $195. They donated 2500 of the nylon bags to those working on the front lines of the pandemic across New York City hospitals.
‘The initiative really made a big difference because I think we reached people who we weren’t our normal customers who kept coming back to us,’ explains Elyce. ‘It was a new crowd. They’ve now discovered Frances Valentine and they were really happy to be able to participate in giving back.
‘The most fun part of that was actually getting the photographs back from the hospitals to send. And it just, it made you cry,’ she adds.
The online future may be promising, but Elyce still holds out hope for the place where it all began, New York City.
‘I think this is the most creative city in the world,’ she said. ‘And I grew up on a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. So this was a complete opposite of where I grew up, but it was always the top of the world to me,’ she says.
Made to last: ‘Our products are really well crafted. The price is affordable and once you get a piece you’re like, wow, this is really well made,’ says Elyce
‘And it still is. I think it’s the most creative people that come here from all over the world just to be here. The writers, the actors, the designers, it’s the place in the world where they’re the most creative as far as I’m concerned.
‘I know there are people who have moved out, but I think people will come back. Definitely think people will come back!
‘It’s just going to take time to get through this pandemic. Things will change. I mean, sadly the storefronts have all changed. That’s really, really sad, but I hope that some of them mom and pop shops can actually come back and do business. I hate to see all the small stores go away.
‘Just look how much everybody’s craving music and theater and art. I live in the West Village and I was walking home last night and there were three different bands playing out. It filled me with such joy to hear it. And those little sparks of happiness just remind me that New York will get back.’
The Frances Valentine aesthetic is cheerful; think patchwork ponchos, pink corduroy pants and red lizard pumps, but they’re also long lasting explains Elyce: ‘Our products are really well crafted. The price is affordable and once you get a piece you’re like, wow, this is really well made.
‘Our pieces are really meant to last your life and to be passed down. I know how long I’ve had that fishermen sweater. I would like to be able to give that to one of my daughter. I feel like our pieces are collectible pieces like that, and that people should be buying them to wear 20 years from now.’