Entrepreneurs

Fashion power couple and Kate Spade creators gamble on a new brand

Kate Spade has a new last name, Valentine, and a new company, Frances Valentine. But the design motivation that made her a household name has not changed.

"It has to have an emotional tug," said Kate Valentine, formerly Kate Spade, while sitting next to her partner and husband, Andy Spade, for an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. Frances Valentine, a high-end maker of shoes and handbags, shipped its first collection to retailers in February.

Kate and Andy Spade first started Kate Spade, the company, in 1993. They grew the brand into a worldwide powerhouse, before selling a majority stake to luxury department store Neiman Marcus in 1999.

About eight years later, Kate Spade was sold to the group known then as Liz Claiborne for $125 million. Kate and Andy Spade left the company they founded shortly thereafter. Subsequently, Liz Claiborne transformed itself into the Kate Spade & Co. that trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

"When we sold the company in 2007, it was really to focus on our family. It really was. It was a grind. I had just had a baby," Kate Valentine said.

"Creatively, I felt like we had completed our task," added Andy Spade, who started in 2008 the branding company Partners & Spade.

Over the years, he's worked with established brands like Target and J.Crew and start-ups like Warby Parker. Andy Spade said he learned a lot from that experience, especially on the social media side.

"People can talk about advertising and branding" and those are important, said Valentine. But it really "has to be about design" at the core.

"When we sold the company in 2007, it was really to focus on our family." -Kate Valentine, née Spade, Frances Valentine co-founder

Naming their new company Frances Valentine was inspired by family.

"My grandfather, father, brother, and my daughter's name is Frances. And then Valentine was my mom's dad's middle name because he was born on Valentine's Day," she told WWD in November 2015.

While starting the Frances Valentine company was not the financial struggle that Kate Spade was 23 year ago, Valentine said she's going to act that way. "The idea of recklessly spending money — even though it sounds like it's lots of fun, it's fashion — isn't interesting to me. It is a business."

"We are [also] purposely limiting our distribution to make sure we do this in a steady fashion, which was the luxury we had when we started our previous company," she added. The Frances Valentine lines are available in major U.S. department stores, and globally in Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, and Canada, as well as online via the company's website.

For Andy Spade, Frances Valentine is the chance to "create another thing."

"I feel like I'm an entrepreneur. And to me, starting things is really fun," he said. "But it's hard to create that magic again. We're trying to do it again. We don't know if that will happen."