Five months after the death of Kate Spade, the company she helped to start, Frances Valentine, is moving forward with its first retail venture — a Madison Avenue pop-up store.
Spade’s suicide in June at the age of 55 shocked the fashion community and the team at Frances Valentine has quietly been trying to carry on. Going into retail was always part of the business plan, according to chief executive officer Elyce Arons.
Asked how the company approaches such a delicate and complicated situation with care and without being exploitive, Arons said, “For us, it is our way of honoring Katy and keeping her spirit alive. We have a really small team in the office and it hit us all really hard. That first week, we had so many customers and friends of the brand write in — people who had known her a long, long time and people we had never met, who said please keep going — you have to keep her designs alive.”
Arons said, “We decided that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to embrace her spirit and the really good things that she brought to everyone. This has been a really happy, good thing. And it wouldn’t be our intention to do it any other way.”
As a partner in the company, creative director and its “branding person,” Andy Spade remains involved with the company, Arons said. Spade talks with her several times a week, sending his concepts and ideas, which he usually discusses with the team over the phone, she said. “We’re trying to give him as much space and time that he needs, because he is taking care of his daughter. But he’s still very involved,” Arons said. “He’s always worked on design, so it will be the same role that he has always played.”
The 850-square-foot space is new territory for the two-and-a-half-year-old brand. Located at 793 Madison Avenue in an old town house on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 67th Street, the location’s perks include two window banks, afternoon sunlight and light wooden floors imported from Africa. Shoppers will find handbags, shoes and jewelry, as well as select items from the “Love Katy” collection. Favorite items of the late designer will be available each season, with the first being a floral-patterned cardi-coat. Arons said of the $395 style, “She had it for years and years and years, and she wore it all the time. Every time we would shoot it for something, customers would call in to ask, ‘Where can I get that?’ We knew it was the first thing we were going to make.”
The Love Katy collection was not part of the business plan, during Spade’s involvement with the company. “It was something that we felt strongly about doing in honor of her and all of her favorite things.”
The store will be open through January, and an enthusiastic response from neighbors would lead to talks with the building’s owner about staying, Arons said. Frances Valentine will donate 20 percent of the proceeds from sales of The Kate Bag to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The company will also be part of the Miracle on Madison fund-raiser Dec. 1 to help support Memorial Sloan Kettering.
With the pop-up set to launch Nov. 10, the store had some brisk sales during Friday’s soft opening, Arons said. The Trixie bag, a T-bottom tote with a grosgrain ribbon at $295, the Zelda handbag at $245 and a variety of slides have been early favorites, Arons said.
The company’s venture into retail has brought back some familiar faces. “It’s all a real family. There are veterans and folks we worked with 15, 20 years ago, who came back. There are women working on the sales floor of the store, who found out we were doing a pop-up store, and called to say, ‘Can I please help?’ They helped us merchandise Thursday.”