Elyce Arons is co-founder of the Frances Valentine clothing brand, which she launched with the late, legendary designer Kate Spade and her husband Andy Spade after selling Kate Spade. (She and Kate were college best friends and since Kate’s tragic death in 2018, Elyce has carried on her legacy through this new line.) Frances Valentine is a chic choice for updating a “mom uniform” with unique, classic and high quality pieces—all things we look for because, as moms, we want to shop for things that will last for more than a season or two. “Buying a piece of Frances Valentine should feel like a gift to yourself,” says Elyce.
We spoke to Elyce, a mom of three, about launching Frances Valentine, life as a working mom, her silver linings of quarantine, her own mom uniform and 5-minute beauty routine, and more.
Can you please share how the Frances Valentine brand came to be?
Katy, Andy, my husband (also Andy) and I were out to dinner in 2012 celebrating my birthday. We really felt the need to start making things again and missed the process of creating items we loved and wanted ourselves. I remember us discussing what it would be, what we might do differently this time and being so excited about the prospect of jumping back in.
Can you share what spurred you to sell Kate Spade?
When we started Kate Spade, none of us had family responsibilities. The company was almost like our first child and we spent all of our waking hours working on it. Weekends and weekdays blurred together, but we loved every minute of it and I even think back fondly on the hard times when we were often broke. After 13 years of working like this, getting married and having children in the midst of growing the company, we had the opportunity to change everything. I still think it was the best thing to do for each of us personally and for our children and families. Katy had just had her daughter and I had just had my third daughter and our other partner Pamela Bell had three young children. It just felt right.
How did you deal with quarantine?
I am one of the lucky people who have a home outside of the city. We have spent every weekend there and every summer since my kids were born. During quarantine, we had a lot of family time (like everyone else), but knowing it was my daughter Katy’s last spring with us (2020 graduate from HS) somehow made each moment precious. We would take turns making themed dinners and dress up for them accordingly (80’s night was fun). One of our family rituals is to play Broadway show music really loudly while we are all cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes. We put together a lot of puzzles, made a lot of bread, took a lot of bike rides, made up a lot of dance routines and watched too much CNN. The silver lining, as for many families is that we had such a great time together and had time to really talk. No one was traveling, no events, nowhere else to be. It was a gift of time with my husband and girls.
So many silver linings…You just opened your third Frances Valentine store (in Palm Beach) in November 2019—how did you deal with COVID shutdowns?
I love opening a new store in a new town. The experience of getting to know the community and the neighbors is probably the best part. Since we are a small company, we are pretty lean and mean when we open a store. There were two of us (Lynda Fisher and me) physically in Palm Beach driving to vintage shops, buying furniture pieces for the store, putting together shelving units, painting and getting the music, phone and POS system set up. It is thrilling to get to decorate a whole new space, each with its own funny quirks. The shutdown in March was hard on our business (like every other business), but once we were able to begin safely reopening, it felt like we could begin to breathe. Our online business has increased quite a bit and we fortuitously had planned our first mailed catalog to deliver in homes the week of June 1st this year. We are one of the fortunate companies as our business is quite strong. I think this is due in large part to the products being so inspirational, colorful and joyful.
We’re so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, iconic designer Kate Spade. Can you tell us about the Love Katy collection that you’ve described as a tribute to her?
Thank you for the kind words. These were two of Katy’s vintage apparel pieces which we remade and launched in December of 2018. It felt like a part of her that we could share with people who loved her so much. It was a struggle for me to find the right words, the best way to express my feelings about this person who was my best friend since college and I loved so dearly. This felt like the best way for me. Sharing some of the pieces she loved most.
What are your favorite pieces from the current line, and why?
I love every piece we make! But for fall, my favorites are a color blocked knit wrap. Is it soft, cozy and gorgeous! We were really focused on comfort when we worked on this collection so there are a lot of cozy sweaters. One of my closet staples for all seasons is the fisherman sweater, also a really soft, colorful multi stripe sweater and our faux fur jackets and long coats. LOVE! We spent a lot of time trying to get exactly the right look and feel for our fall pieces and I feel like it turned out perfectly!
You’re doing several trunk shows, including one in Greenwich, CT. What are you looking forward to with these intimate shopping experiences?
Talking to other women and moms! I really miss being social and I miss interacting with friends and customers. I do get to do some of that in our Sag Harbor store, but I am really looking forward to our fall events to reconnect with people, finding out what they love and what they are wearing now. At trunk shows people love to see the products up close and try them on. We love to hear all of the feedback on how things fit or what people are loving.
What’s your mom uniform?
In the summer it is either our Capri tunic or a floral embroidery top with 501 Levi’s. In the fall, it will be our new pink wide wale corduroy pants with one of the cozy sweaters and a French blue tweed wool swing jacket.
Do you have a 5 minute beauty routine?
It is pretty simple and boring, but here goes: I use Cetaphil gentle cleanser and then La Mer moisturizing cream. After that, it is Bobbi Brown moisturizing tint, powder, blush and lipstick (rum raisin). Done!
What’s next for you and Frances Valentine?
We are busy working on two more in-home catalogs this fall and holiday and several more are on the slate for next year. We are hoping to open two more stores in the next twelve months in Texas and South Carolina, but we will have to wait and see what the future holds. In the meantime, we have many outdoor trunk shows planned this fall. We also have some incredible brand collaborations in the pipeline for Spring which I am really excited about while finalizing our own Spring ’21 collection. We are currently placing orders for our fresh, colorful caftans, dresses, tops, sandals, baskets and home goods. I love working on spring and summer collections. They are so happy and inspirational.
Who are your mentors or other women you are inspired by?
Mothers! I admire anyone who is a mother. Motherhood is the hardest, most important job there has ever been. And it is a good thing that women are the ones doing it! Ruth Bader Ginsberg if I have to single out one woman, because she has made so much more possible for all of us in my lifetime. I remember growing up, my father had to help each of my sisters and I open checking accounts at the bank (not my mother) because women were not permitted to open accounts without their husbands. She has changed a lot for all of us.
What’s your favorite piece of “working mom” advice or strategy you use?
You know on airplanes where they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first and then assist others? Well, that’s how I feel about getting dressed and ready. Take the time to get ready first and then help the kids! I get up very early in the morning, which makes it easier. It is the farm girl in me I suppose.