How Kate Spade's Family and Friends Are Honoring the Late Designer Through Her Clothing Line
Not only does the late designer's niece Rachel Brosnahan star in the new Frances Valentine campaign, the entire collection is a tribute to Kate Spade's signature colorful, whimsical aesthetic
It’s a new era at Frances Valentine, the label Kate Spade launched in 2016.
After the designer tragically passed away by suicide at the age of 55 in June 2018, leaving behind her husband Andy and daughter, Frances Beatrix (“Bea”), 13, those behind the line were faced with the decision of whether or not to continue.
But Kate’s co-founders, her husband of 24 years, Andy, and best friend Elyce Arons — both of whom helped build her namesake empire before she left it in 2006 — were overwhelmed by the emotional and supportive response from Kate’s fashion fans. It was then that they decided they had no choice but to move her latest fashion endeavor forward. “We never considered stopping,” Arons tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Of course we needed to move forward. It’s what she would have wanted.”
While Andy has relocated to California with Bea, he still continues to work on the line, which was named after their daughter. “We talk several times a week, and we want to make sure he has lots of time to take care of his daughter,” says Arons. “Right now the place they need to be is together.”
Arons also keeps Bea connected to the label that shares her first name. Inside the brand’s pop-up store on Madison Avenue, which opened in November, fans share their memories of the designer and pen notes to Bea in a red journal that sits on a table, which Arons then sends along to Bea. “You are blessed to be the daughter of a beautiful spirit,” one entry says. “Although I never met your mom, her radiance and legacy will live on,” says another.
Plus, Arons says Kate is still with her everyday as she creates the pieces that have the designer’s signature touch — colorful accessories that feature a hint of whimsical touches. “Katy designed this line, and will continue to,” says Arons.
“Her aesthetic is within everything we do,” says Arons. “I think of Katy with every decision that we make. I’m probably harder on making decisions than I ever was because I always have to think, ‘How would she think, too?’ I have to hear her voice. I think we’ve been very true to it, and sticking to the brand and how it was created in the first place.”
The founders therefore wanted to make the collection for spring, which Arons says was Kate’s favorite season, particularly meaningful for the brand.
First, for their spring campaign, they cast Rachel Brosnahan, the award-winning star of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as its star, who is not only one of the brand’s most loyal supporters, but also the niece of the designer.
“In the wake of Katy’s passing, my family and I were so overwhelmed and encouraged by the love and support we received from those who were touched by Katy’s work, many of whom were strangers from around the world,” she told us. “When you lose someone you love, you search for boundless ways to keep their memory alive. This felt like a way to do that through her beautiful creations and an opportunity to share them with all of those who her work meant so much to.”
Its lineup of colorful bags perfectly reflects Kate’s vision. There’s a green-and-pink plaid style that Kate hand-picked before she died. There’s also a racer-stripe, a design Kate called timeless, as well as a “Midge” style, which is named after her niece Rachel Brosnahan’s beloved character on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “Katy loved color,” says Arons. “She was not afraid of it.”
Kate was also known for her flashy footwear, and this spring’s lineup features bejeweled flats — “she would have worn these in yellow,” says Arons of the Victoria sandal pictured below — and embellished Mary-Janes, which was Kate’s favorite style.
Other accessories feature extremely personal touches. There is a keychain that shows Kate’s signature, “Love, Katy,” as those closest to her say she loved to pen handwritten notes and letters for every occasion. There is also a bag featuring an illustration of her beloved dog, Poe, and a bag featuring an illustration of the designer done by her friend, Matthew Grenby. “He sketched this piece of Kate on a piece of notebook paper and she brought it home, and we said it would be fun to use it, so we did,” says Arons.
The label is also launching a “Love, Katy” capsule line, which features pieces inspired by Kate’s wardrobe.
They are kicking it off with a floral cardigan, inspired by a vintage style Kate had worn for 30 years, as well as a caftan she used to wear on her frequent jaunts to Mexico (she was particularly fond of Cabo San Lucas). The brand will continue to release one item per season.
(All items pictured are available on francesvalentine.com.)
Finally, the pop-up shop serves as a place where Kate Spade’s fans can flock to and feel like their inside the late designer’s exceptionally stylish closet. It’s filled with items in every shade of Kate’s beloved rainbow, and there is a wall of personal photos with family and friends in the back. There is also a journal where people can leave their messages for the designer. “Kate, you changed my life forever,” one note says. “I truly treasure all things Kate. I will continue to live colorfully with Kate in my heart,” says another.
“I feel her every time I’m in the store,” says Arons. “She has been a part of my life for so long, I just feel like she’s next to me all the time.”
While this spring may mark a new beginning for Spade’s Frances Valentine label, her closest friends, family and fashion partners say it’s just the start of how they’re continuing to honor the industry icon.
“She doesn’t have to be lost,” says Arons. “I can’t call her at 3:30 in the morning anymore. But there is a renewed energy that’s keeping her spirit alive.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255), text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.