Brosnahan, Spade, or Valentine, she’s still Kate

STA alumna and fashion designer Kate Spade Valentine returned to campus for a tour.


Molly Winkler

Junior Gabby Ayala takes a selfie with alumna Kate Spade in Snapchat using the face swapping feature. Kate Spade came back to STA Mar. 10. Photo by Molly Winkler

by Mary Hilliard, Editor in Chief

Before she was Kate Valentine, founder of recently-launched high fashion line Frances Valentine, she was Kate Spade. And before she was Kate Spade, founder of the now billion dollar company Kate Spade New York, she was Katy Brosnahan, St. Teresa’s Academy class of 1981.

A nervous excitement pervades the Quad after school March 10, as students await the arrival of arguably St. Teresa’s most notable alumna, Kate Spade Valentine. Valentine came straight from an event launching her new line, Frances Valentine, at Hall’s department store in Crown Center to see the new Windmoor building, and its Chapel of St. Joseph.

When Valentine arrives, she is wearing a chic cape, as well as colorful Frances Valentine shoes. She totes an oversized handbag, emblazoned with a large red “FV”. The students enthusiastically welcome the legendary alumna, clutching their smartphones, each wanting a personal souvenir of meeting the designer whose name can be found on their phone cases, wallets and notebooks, among other things. Valentine graciously takes a picture with each nervous STA student (and teacher) before president Nan Bone whisks her away to give her a tour of Windmoor.

Mark Thompson, brother of Valentine’s friend, Amy Thompson, who passed away from a brain injury, accompanies the pair into Windmoor and points to the dedication outside the chapel to his and Amy’s mother, Jeanne Collins Thompson.

“Oh Mark!” She exclaims, then has her picture taken in front of the plaque with Thompson.

She might be an acclaimed fashion designer, but Valentine humbly acts like any other STA alumna returning to campus after a long time away.

As Bone points out different artifacts in the glass case across from the chapel, Valentine compares the different uniform styles to the skirt she wore during her time as a student.

“It was the plaid,” she says to her childhood friend and STA alumna Suzy Hanger, as she gestures to a current student’s red tartan skirt.

Bone points out century-old botanical drawings by Mother Evelyn O’Neill, and Valentine declares them “beautiful.”

“This really is such a treat,” she says, admiring the display.

They enter the chapel, and Bone explains the significance of the lace design, and the monthly class masses. Valentine looks around and with a soft gasp and says, “It really is so beautiful.”

“My memories of St. Teresa’s are just remarkable and I really, really mean that,” Valentine says. “It was just so, you know, it just had such an incredible impact on me, on my education…”

According to Valentine, her experience at STA influenced her decision to send her daughter, Frances, a fifth grader, to an all-girls school.

“It’s one of the reasons I definitely just didn’t think twice about sending my daughter to an all-girls school,” she says. “We looked at one [school] that was co-ed… and I just looked at my husband and was like, ‘no’.”

It turned out to be a positive decision.

“She loves it, she really does,” according to Valentine.

When Bone begins explaining St. Teresa’s STEAM initiatives, Valentine brings up her daughter once more, “It’s really what my daughter’s into, science and math.”

According to Valentine, those subjects were not her strong suit. After graduating from the University of Kansas, she originally planned on a career in journalism.

“I really did think I was going to be Holly Hunter from “Broadcast News,”, you know, running for the story and kind of the behind-the-scenes. That didn’t happen, as you can see,” she says with a laugh.

When she first moved to New York, Valentine worked for Mademoiselle magazine, which is owned by mass media company Condé Nast, the same company that owns GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Glamour, among others.

“I remember when I got the job they said, ‘We don’t have anything in the article department, so you probably don’t want what we do have’,” Valentine says. “And I said ‘I honestly could be anywhere, I’ll take the job’.”

The job ended up being an assistant in the fashion department.

“I loved fashion so I was like, ‘Of course I’ll take the job’,” Valentine says.

She worked a couple years in that position before becoming an associate editor, and then promoted to senior editor, at which point she decided, “I wanted to be my own boss.”

“[Kate Spade] was really was created out of that,” she says. “My husband said, ‘Well you have such a thing for handbags’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know anything about design…how hard can it be?’”

Though the possibility of failure did cross her mind, it did not stop her.

“I figured no one knew who we were, we could take a small little fail on it,” she says. “But you do [have to take risks].”

The risk paid off. Kate Spade,founded in 1993 by Valentine and her husband, initially focused on handbags, but soon expanded to jewelry, clothes, and houseware. In 2006, they sold the brand to Liz Claiborne, and left the company altogether in 2007, after their daughter was born.

photos courtesy of Molly Winkler

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But now, Valentine is back, with a new line and a new name. She held a launch event at Hall’s the evening of March 9, with a portion of the profits benefitting the Brain Injury Association.

“I used to do a lot of personal appearances [at Neiman Marcus] and at different stores, but Hall’s was honestly, for obvious reasons, my favorite place to do an appearance,” Valentine says, on her return to Kansas City. “And… I always do like to have some connection to a charity involved, and it turned out because of dear Amy Thompson that we decided on the Brain Injury Association.”

Her advice to anyone looking to become involved in fashion?

“Somebody was asking me last night, ‘I’m really interested in fashion, how do I get interviews coming from Kansas City, how do I do the New York thing?’ And I said, ‘I just moved there with my best friend who I met at KU my freshman year,” she says. “She moved to New York and I stayed with her and then, that’s when I got the job and I never left.”

Leaving Windmoor, Bone continues the tour and takes her to the basement of Donnelly Hall and shows her art teacher Theresa Wallerstedt’s room, formerly the cafeteria. They walk past a wall with student artwork, and Valentine pauses to admire the drawings and paintings.

“It’s really beautiful, it’s just great,” she remarks.

Bone shows her the fibers studio, and Valentine jokes,“I should have my straw bags made here,” while looking at weaving projects by fibers students.

The heels of her signature Valentine shoes click as the group climbs the stairs back to the first floor, where director of finance and fellow member of the class of 1981, Kathy Rohr, and public relations director, Diane Wilmot, join the group, which includes Bone, marketing director Megan Schaefer, and Hanger.

Valentine, Rohr, and Hanger laugh as they walk past the McDonnell conference room.

“That’s where we took humanities,” Valentine says. Adds Hanger, “that’s also where I learned how to fill out my W2 form.”

They go into the library, which, according to Bone, looks almost exactly the same. Along the way, the members of the class of ‘81 reminisce about old traditions, like Class Day, and their religion classes that were held in the rooms around the auditorium, which are now part of the guidance department.

“Remember we had a class called ‘prayer’?” Says Rohr, and Valentine and Hanger laugh.

The tour makes its way outside through the Quad, where alumnae director Kathleen Barry stops to say hello. Barry asks Valentine about her sister, Missy, and they discuss their mutual connection. Like many Kansas Citians, Valentine knows something about nearly everyone, or at least, someone related to everyone.

In the Music and Arts building, Bone leads her to the auditorium. Valentine leans against a railing, looking around and up at the glass dome on the ceiling.

“Oh, this was just… I loved it,” she gasps.

When the tour makes its way to the Commons, Hanger and Valentine recognize the room.

“It was the gym,” Valentine exclaims.

As Valentine makes her way up the stairs from the basement, a smile comes across her face when she sees theology teacher Matthew Bertalott’s room.

“This was also my advisor, this was it,” she says. “Oh my gosh, that is so funny.”

The tour makes its way outside M&A, and Valentine prepares to leave, but poses for one last picture.

While Valentine is now a renowned fashion designer living in New York, she has not forgotten her Kansas City roots. During the tour, she also looks through her senior year yearbook with Rohr and Hanger, and asks questions typical of any alumna as she points to different pictures.

“Wasn’t she prom queen?”

“And where is she now?”

In the end, Valentine, commenting on the STA campus, could even be describing herself: “A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t.”