Frances Valentine co-founder Elyce Arons tells PEOPLE how she's honoring Spade's spirit through the brand's latest collection

By Linda Marx
January 22, 2020 05:42 PM
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Eighteen months after Kate Spade’s death, her best friend and business partner Elyce Arons is continuing to honor her legacy through the fashion brand they started together, Frances Valentine. In a new interview, Arons opens up to PEOPLE about what’s next for the company and how Spade’s family is coping with her tragic death.

Arons is still close with Kate’s husband, Andy Spade, and their now 14-year-old daughter Bea, a high school freshman, who have both kept a very low profile since the designer’s death by suicide in June 2018.

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“I am still in touch with Andy and Bea and know how hard it is for them to cope even two years later,” Aron tells PEOPLE while visiting Frances Valentine’s new pop-up location in Palm Beach this week.

“Bea is sweet and adorable, and I talk to Andy regularly. I know it will take a long time for him to get back on his feet.”

Ever since Kate’s death, Arons has been focused on keeping the late designer’s vision intact at Frances Valentine, which they launched together in 2016.

Courtesy Elyce Arons

“I keep Kate’s spirit alive by introducing joyful products in her aesthetic,” Elyce Arons tells PEOPLE exclusively.

“New for spring will be beautiful prints made in peony design, Kate’s favorite flower,” she says. “Kate loved colorful, happy, lively designs and believed that people should dress how they want and not be afraid of color. We are continuing to offer these kinds of clothing and accessories to honor her legacy.”

The new Palm Beach pop-up is the third brick-and-mortar location for the brand, which also has opened stores in Sag Harbor and Manhattan, and plans further retail expansion in Dallas, Charleston and Nashville. The three stores currently open carry items like shoes, jewelry, handbags, vintage caftans, blouses, jackets, coats and other items inspired by Spade’s design aesthetic of color, joy and cool style.

Courtesy Frances Valentine

Arons says one of the most important aspects of their retail stores is to have the opportunity to meet customers and help them dress in the creative ways they dream. “Our brand means personal engagement,” she says. “We like the connection to our customers, and our salespeople become like their best friends.”

Arons is currently having talks with Spade’s niece, actress Rachel Brosnahan, 29, about modeling for the brand again (she previously posed for the spring 2019 campaign). Brosnahan, the daughter of Spade’s brother, is the star of the critically acclaimed Amazon series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which just won the SAG Award for outstanding performance by an ensemble comedy series last Sunday in Los Angeles.

Maggie Cepis for Frances Valentine

“Rachel is great, she posts for us on Instagram, and she is so funny,” Arons says. “We are talking to her now about doing more with Frances Valentine. She is such a good-hearted person and does a great deal of charity work despite her busy working schedule which is unreal. We are excited to work with her!”

Arons, who had been best friends with Spade since their freshman year as journalism students at University of Kansas, believes another way to honor her legacy is to encourage people to be more open in their discussions about depression and not afraid to talk about it.

“They should feel okay about this issue, and get help when they need it,” she says.

“We intend to move forward with our Frances Valentine brand to focus on what brings joy to our lives and to the lives of our customers. We make what we love and want to give color to our customers so they will be happy and dress exactly how they feel. Kate would have loved this.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.