Meet the CEO & Co-Founder of Frances Valentine

The words impressive and inspiring—even formidable—could all be used to describe Elyce Arons’ career. One of the founders of Kate Spade NY, the Kansas native served as COO of the company, helping to turn it into the beloved icon it has become. But she didn’t stop there: Four years ago, she, with Kate and Andy Spade, started their next venture: Frances Valentine, a brand of accessories, clothing and, most recently, home pieces. We caught up with Arons, who serves as CEO, to talk about her roots in fashion, favorites for fall and winter, and how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted their business. (Hint: They have super cute masks!)

How did you get started in fashion?

I have always loved shopping in vintage stores. I could find unique pieces there that no one else had and [would] wear them to school during my high school days. Happily, I still have so many of those vintage finds in my closet today. Although I grew up on a farm in Kansas, my mother took a subscription to Women’s Wear Daily, which I would look at every day. And then, when I could afford them when I was in college, I would hungrily look through the pages of magazines like ELLE, Vogue, Harper’s and Mademoiselle. I fell in love with the vibrance of NYC on my first visit as a 14-year-old, and after that visit, I hatched my plan to move there after college to pursue a career in fashion.

You were co-founder and COO of Kate Spade NY until the sale of the company in 2006. What was your experience like there?

As one of our former employees refers to it, it was like Camelot. We started with literally nothing except for some handbag ideas, but we always knew that we wanted it to be a happy, gracious company where people enjoyed working. We would hire only nice, polite people. It really made for an incredible group of talented people who I considered a family. I think the products mirrored the personality of the people who created them. It was such an exciting and happy time.

In 2016, you, along with Kate and Andy Spade, founded Frances Valentine. What was the inspiration behind the brand?

We really had the need to get back to creating things again. We missed working and our children had grown up enough so that we were able to devote time to a new venture. And, honestly, it was mostly because we were unable to find things we just adored at a reasonable price! We thought we would be able to take the time (leisurely) to start the company, but once you open the doors, the seasonal timelines take over and you find yourself at the office 24/7!

Arons, at left, with Kate and Andy Spade in the first Kate Spade store on Thompson Street in New York City in 1997.

Along with working together on two companies, you and Kate Spade had been friends since college. How has her style and your friendship influenced Frances Valentine?

Katy and I shared a love for vintage pieces. When we met, I thought she was uber preppy, but as we graduated and began working, our style of dressing grew up. We still loved vintage, but mixed it with modern pieces to look new. We sort of do this organically at FV. I have always loved Katy’s style and her way of putting things together. She was the best editor I knew.

How would you describe the Frances Valentine brand today—and how has it evolved over the past few years?

The brand today has the same aesthetic as it did on Day 1. I don’t see that ever really changing. We aim to make joyful products that inspire optimism—almost like accessing the intangible with something tangible. Something you see that you just have to have—like a gift to yourself—pieces that show the personality of the woman wearing them. We set out to make timeless pieces that you could wear 20 years ago and 20 years from now, and that you may want to pass on to your child someday.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business at all?

Yes. Obviously, like every business, we were impacted by the shutdown in March. Once mid-April came, our business started to get back on track and is doing well. We believe that women still want to look great right now, but more casually and with less structure. Our online business has been very strong, but our stores on Madison Avenue and Sag Harbor just opened back up in June, so they are still ramping up. I think they will because, at this point, people are happy to get out and shop in a thoughtful, personally safe environment.

Let’s talk fall. What are some trends that you’re loving this season?

As far as what we are doing: Amazing faux fur, bright sequin sweaters, soft cozy go-everywhere sweaters, embroidery, color blocking and a combo of Lady-Tom Boy styles. Adorable comfortable shoes and smaller cross-body bags.

Which Frances Valentine pieces are you particularly excited about for fall and winter?

We are using the softest touch faux fur for our fall jackets in leopard, lamb and mink patterns. I am just in love with them! We are launching a new fluffy, lightweight, cozy sweater that you can wear for Zoom meetings or for binge-watching TV on your couch. A soft fisherman sweater, which is my closet staple, a new colorway for our favorite border sweater, a new version of our popular sequin floral jacket and a new addition to the line—which is my new favorite—our colorful sequin and beaded flower Cardi coat. We are launching the cutest small crossbody (hands free!) handbags and our new Naplak two-tone bags, which we had made in Italy (I stole the office sample). And we are reoffering our super comfy Suzanne and Elyce loafers that feel like house slippers in new leathers and colors.

What’s next for Frances Valentine?

We will continue to build on the success of our apparel pieces, shoes, bags and jewelry as well as add a home line in 2021.

We launched our first mail catalog in June and were very pleased with the results, so we are planning to send out two more this fall and holiday. We are working on more home products for spring 2021. We dipped our toes into that market with our Veracruz embroidered tablecloths and napkins this summer and sold out quickly, so home seems a natural extension for us, especially since many of us are working from home. Oh, and continuing to make masks and errand gloves (we sold out of them within hours). I didn’t realize our customers were waiting for our masks, but the demand is quite high. Since most likely, we will all be wearing masks for the near future, we decided to make the type of masks that we would actually want to wear, so I guess it makes sense. They are so cute and happy!