As FLOWER is based in Birmingham, Alabama, when I heard the news that Frances Valentine, (one of my favorite fashion brands) was opening a shop in my hometown, I was ecstatic and had to hear more. Below is a conversation with Elyce Arons, co-founder and CEO of Frances Valentine.
Margot: First, for those not yet familiar with Frances Valentine, please describe the beginnings.
Elyce: As you may know, there were four of us who founded Kate Spade, we sold that business in 2006. In 2014 Katy (Kate Spade) and I realized how much we missed creating and decided to start Frances Valentine. We began again with handbags and shoes. It wasn’t until 2019 that we added apparel to Frances Valentine’s rolodex!
The name is built on friendship and came from two family names we really liked and added together – Frances and Valentine. This person (Frances Valentine) represents that best friend who makes you laugh harder than anyone else, your favorite aunt, your sister…that cool, chic, gracious woman in your life who embodies great style.
Is there a phrase or slogan that would capture your wish for the FV woman?
“Wear what makes you happy!”
Can you talk about your relationship with Kate? Also, how does today’s Frances Valentine incorporate her voice?
Katy and I met when we were 18 as freshmen in college. We shared a love for vintage shopping, great music and practical jokes. We were both journalism majors and credited “The Mary Taylor Moore Show” for this choice of major. MTM, Rhoda and Phyllis from that show still inspire me today – they all had great style!
Katy was the best friend anyone could hope to have, and I miss her every day. Katy’s voice will always be part of our collections. Her love for color, vivid prints and appreciation for nostalgic pieces with wit, still resonate in each season of Frances Valentine. Two of the first apparel pieces we made were based on Katy’s favorite thrift store finds!
Let’s chat a bit about you. I’ve read about you and mothers and motherhood. How does Frances Valentine make a mother’s life easier, more fun, etc.? Speaking of mothers, I’d also love to hear about your daughters’ sense of style!
I love that as a busy mom myself, I can just toss on one of our Frances Valentine pieces to brighten up any outfit – adding a pair of fun yellow shoes or a statement handbag. It really does lift your mood and elevate your spirits. A great accessory can make you feel like an individual again, doing a little something for yourself that day.
My daughter’s styles have evolved a great deal in the past couple of years. I don’t know if teens and parents will ever see eye to eye on wardrobe choices, but my daughters have evolved into more mature choices now that they are older and are now really liking Frances Valentine. I couldn’t be more pleased to give them full access to my closet!
I know you grew up on a farm. How has that impacted your life philosophy and your general aesthetic?
My experience in growing up on a farm, as the youngest of four daughters, was to rise early and to do my chores every day, seven days a week. It instilled a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility in me. The farm was a great place to grow up and my parents taught us that we could do anything we put our minds to doing if we worked hard.
I must admit, once I was in high school, I became very bored on the farm and longed to move to a big city. My mother was a fashion illustrator, so she had a subscription to “Women’s Wear Daily,” which I consumed every day! I also loved reading fashion magazines when I could afford them. After I graduated from college I took the leap and moved to NYC.
Who in the fashion industry has influenced you and how?
Diana Vreeland, Slim Aarons, and Mary Tyler Moore! They were all trail-blazers in style. During the 60’s and 70’s the women’s movement was in full force and styles changed to reflect this bold new world – it was an exciting time to grow up. Women were wearing pants/ jeans and more masculine tailoring. There are so many women of that era who influenced fashion, it is hard to not mention them all!
The somewhat hackneyed but always popular question: Part A: Your house is on fire. You can only grab one item (non- living) what would it be and why?
Probably my cast iron skillet. It has been with me through thick and thin!
Part B: Your house is on fire. You can only grab one piece of Frances Valentine. What would it be and why?
Definitely my Frances Valentine Fisherman Cardigan Sweater. The best piece in my closet – I wear it religiously!
Frances Valentine has opened a store in Atlanta and one in Birmingham. What has lured you South?
Our customers! One of the best things about southern women is that they are unafraid to wear color. I Love it!
Have you spent much time in the deep South? If so, what are some of your observations about women here, and the culture in general?
I have spent time in the south! I lived in North Carolina for several years and had a job that allowed me to travel quite a bit, not only through the south but all over the country. People in the south are inviting, friendly and fun. There is a real American style down there and I find the culture easy going and gracious.
And finally, since we are FLOWER, talk a bit about your floral patterns in Frances Valentine and their inspirations.
I love flowers and happen to be a big fan of gardening – no wonder since I grew up on a farm! My favorite flowers to grow are cut and come again Zinnias. The colors are just gorgeous late in the summer, and you can’t replicate some of those fabulous pinks and oranges anywhere else in nature. Peonies, hydrangea, poppies…I love them all!
At Frances Valentine, we use original paintings of florals for most of our prints. We create and find vintage paintings from all over the world (I buy way too many!) to use on our apparel, bags and shoes.
These prints make you smile, they can make a dress sing! When you wear them, it literally can transform your mood. So many times I want to keep going and make wall paper, pillows, sheets and bedding out of some of our prints because they are so fabulous. But I have to hold back…one step at a time!
We’ll look forward to the next chapter in the Frances Valentine story. Meanwhile, welcome to Birmingham!