Fashion / Shopping

Colorful New York Brand Does a Texas Two-Step With Fashion Dynamo Elyce Arons Courting Style Setters in Houston and Dallas

Frances Valentine Makes Quite an Impression Thanks to Kate Spade's Bestie

BY // 02.29.20
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

Elyce Arons, co-founder of modern American lifestyle brand Frances Valentine, breezed in to Houston from New York via Dallas to throw a festive lunch for style setters on the sun-soaked North Balcony of Le Colonial.

The 30 guests were greeted in the upstairs lounge with glasses of Taittinger Champagne and a hug from Arons, whose cheerful and kind disposition makes her immediately seem like an old friend.

And she is an old friend, in some ways. Arons has been a part of our lives via our closets for a long time. Arons cofounded Kate Spade with college bestie Kate Valentine Spade and her husband Andy Spade in 1993. They sold the brand in 2006, as they had young daughters to raise and an offer too good to refuse. But they missed the fashion world, and founded Frances Valentine — named after Spade’s two grandfathers — a decade later.

And what better place to introduce Frances Valentine to Houston for the first time than in the beautiful Le Colonial balcony overlooking River Oaks District. The room’s Moroccan tile floors, slow-moving fans and potted palms made for the perfect setting for a colorful lunch with fashionable friends.

Arons and the Frances Valentine team had been in Dallas the days prior for a luncheon and trunk show, as they intend to enter the Texas market with a pop-up later this year. The small, highly curated brand has a flagship on Madison Avenue in New York and a store in Palm Beach, with the rest of the business done via ecommerce.

The Dallas trunk show was Arons’ first without her business partner and best friend Kate Spade, who tragically committed suicide in 2018. As Arons and I caught up over lunch, I asked her what it was like pressing on without her partner and friend.

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“Andy and I know she would have wanted us to carry on this way — continuing to build the business based on the things she loved, in her honor.”

And indeed, Frances Valentine sustains Spade’s unique way of seeing. It is a treasure trove of spirited vintage-modern clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories inspired by her vision and the things she found on her extensive travels.

At the Houston lunch, Nancy Bihlmaier of Nancy B. Creative created special details, like hand-cut flower-shaped placecards with calligraphed names and a custom menu with watercolor illustrations of Frances Valentine’s floral coats, leather handbags and structural shoes. Guests enjoyed crispy shrimp and pork, pan seared dumplings, crunch salad, roasted salmon, shaking beef, and spicy chicken stir-fry. Scoops of mango sorbet and shots of espresso finished the delectable meal.

Arons and her team generously gifted guests with the adorable Honeypot bag, and invited everyone to shop the trunk show the following day.

Frances Valentine Houston Luncheon (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
Elyce Arons studies the menu designed by Nancy B. Creative (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

On Thursday’s gloriously sunny Houston winter day, Bihlmaier, along with Carrie ColbertNatalie Steen of The Nat Note, and yours truly, Anne Lee Phillips, hosted the trunk show at Arons’ friend Meg Murray‘s beautiful River Oaks home. The stunning home, which features Murray’s heirloom collection of china and contemporary art, was a fitting backdrop to showcase the Frances Valentine line. Bihlmaier meticulously handpainted three-dozen sugar cookies with shoes, bags and clothing from the Frances Valentine repertoire, each one a different design.

Stylish Texas women came out in droves and went wild over the colorful and floral coats and caftans, bright leather sandals, and wicker and seagrass bags. A portion of proceeds for the trunk show benefitted Mental Health America Greater Houston, and president/CEO Renae Vania Tomczak came early to meet with shoppers about the cause that is dear to Arons’ heart.

PC Seen: Natalie Ariz, Sarah Bray, Val Mogul, Allison O’Neill, Eleanor Banco, Lauren Mills, Valerie Dittner, Candace Thomas, Monica Abney, Consuelo MacPherson, Katherine Phelps, and Melissa Sugulas.

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