Former Kate Spade back with a new line

Shoes from Frances Valentine’s spring 2017 collection.
Shoes from Frances Valentine’s spring 2017 collection. PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK • It is best to focus on the shoes. All the names - of the designer and the labels - are too confusing.

But here goes: The designer is the woman most people know as Kate Spade. She is both famous and wealthy thanks to the brand she co-founded in 1993, which still bears that name. It was her name - sort of. Technically, it was a combination of her first name and the last name of her then-soon-to-be-husband Andy Spade.

The collection began as handbags and accessories, but blossomed into a modern, preppy brand that filled the closets of women who liked the charm and functionality of a roomy nylon shopper-style bag and a pair of comfortable flats.

In short order, the husband and wife sold the brand to Neiman Marcus, which sold it to Liz Claiborne in 2007, which then reorganised it into another company. In the midst of the selling and reselling of Kate Spade, the founders left the company.

The husband worked on other projects. The wife spent time at home with their daughter. And life was good. Until it got boring.

They could have sailed off into the sunset on a golden yacht with their 11-year-old daughter, Frances Valentine Spade, but instead, they created another accessory company called Frances Valentine - which also happen to be two names in Kate's family tree.

Meanwhile, Kate Spade, the woman, changed her name to Kate Valentine. Or, if you prefer, Kate Valentine Spade (she is still married to Andy).

So what exactly is in a name? What about the continuity, legacy and all that precious brand DNA that 100-year-old French fashion houses are always talking about?

"I always had a good way of disconnecting myself from the company," Valentine said during a preview of her spring 2017 Frances Valentine collection. "I feel proud of what we built, but I'm in a different place. I wasn't competing with my namesake.

"It is not hard for me at all. I think it's harder for other people."

If there is anything disconcerting about the launch of Frances Valentine, which is just over a year old, it was the pressure of having had such a significant success with her first company. Can she and her partners do it again? "I feel a little nervous coming off that huge run of success," says Valentine, 53.

If Kate Spade (the company) began with handbags, then Frances Valentine begins with shoes. There are round-toed flats, slingbacks with feathery pom-poms and ankle boots in leopard print with golf ball-sized crystal heels. They are all aiming to be pretty, but also comfortable.

"I wanted to make sure I paid attention to the arch, to the toes, to the heel," Valentine says.

The ballerina shoes, with their bows and baubles, are glitzy and princess-like. They veer deep into the precious and sugary and are reminiscent of the brand Valentine started more than 20 years ago.

But the ankle boots are more sophisticated and have a leaner, city edge. They seem to reflect Valentine's observation that as she has become older, her tastes have evolved and she has become more confident in her style. She is not a different person, but the times are different. "You can't do something that's already been done," she says.

Change is unavoidable. With her return to the fashion fray, she is dismayed by social media's omnipresence. E-commerce is only one of many new shopping options.

But women still love a good pair of shoes.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Former Kate Spade back with a new line'. Print Edition | Subscribe