You stylish thing! Take us from workwear to chic. Well, that’s exactly what Sarah LaFleur of Mémé LAFLEUR is here to do. Armed with my iPhone and kitty heels, last night, I was lucky enough to catch up with the modern-day maven meets brave new fashionista (oh yeaa, also founder and CEO) LaFleur to talk ALL things Mémé LAFLEUR – a wonderfully new and completely sophisticated line dedicated to creating perfect workwear for the “purposeful woman.” Sarah teams up with high fashion and luxury designer Miyako Nakamura (the former head designer at Zac Posen!) to create an affordable and super luxe line of working-girl IT looks for Fall 2012.
So, kick off your heels (I’m doing that now!) and enjoy Sarah’s nine-to-five tips on how to be the consummate professional and stylish — the power woman and sexy. +LOVE/TAKE-IN/ENJOY ALL THE WONDERFUL BEHIND THE SCENES PICS +DC TRUNK SHOW THIS SATURDAY, 4-6 PM @1177 22ND STREET NW, WDC.
all photos: Mémé LAFLEUR
BYT: How did Mémé LAFLEUR come about?
Sarah LaFleur: It starts with my background and relationship with my mother who is my biggest source of inspiration. My mother worked in fashion and PR and she headed up Este Lauder and Hanae Mori – a Japaneese fashion brand in Paris. I worked in finance and was always on the corporate side of things. As a little girl, I remember my mother always looked so immaculate; I remember she always looked powerful and strong, AND beautiful. It was inspiring. I’m my mother daughters after all. Laughs. I had been worked in management consultant and I didn’t feel I was emulating what my mother taught me. The clothing I was wearing to work was always the same three brands. And everything just fit so poorly. Really that’s where the inspiration came from…to create something beautiful and with purpose (and do it at an affordable price point). All women know that feeling and I wanted to create the same feeling through workwear.
BYT: Tell us about Mikayo? She was previously the head designer at Zac Posen, correct?
SL: Miyako was the former head designer at Zac Posen and has also worked with Jason Wu extensively. So she comes from this very high fashion background. And was a finalist for the Ecco Domani fashion award. I saw her resume and immediately recognized she was this force I had to work with. Her dresses were just so beautiful- she would design these beautiful couture corsets and dresses that would sell for $20,000. She also wanted to design more for the modern woman. So, it really just worked out so perfectly. I really love all the beautiful dresses and the clean designs, for example, like Chloe. And even when I made a really good income living and working in NYC and I still couldn’t afford these clothes. Miyako and I produce all our dresses in the Garment District in NYC, which is something we are really proud of. By selling directly to customers, real women, the brand is able to avoid significant retail mark-ups that typically exist in high end fashion.
BYT: Describe workwear chic? And the type of woman you are designing for?
SL: I have this idea in my mind. I want to design for the working women. Okay well – it sounds like 90% of us are that. But really, we are more. We are working women who like to cook, to travel; we are a girlfriend, a writer. We are so much more than just being defined by the one job we have. I want to design dresses for the purposeful woman. Women who have passion- whether that be work- or something outside of work. Its the Ampersand girl! It’s women who work and play! AND are powerful and sexy.
BYT: The line is scheduled to launch this Fall- tell us a little about it? Any favorite looks?
SL: We did the pre-launch collection in April, a line of seven dresses, and we have our final trunk shows for the Spring/Summer collection in NYC on Thursday, June 14th, and then one more on Friday and we’ll probably sell out by the end. So, we discovered there was such a need for fashionable workwear. In the Fall collection, we play around with the color pallette using brick reds, navies, taupe, that add a little bit of color and are totally office appropriate. It’s not just another pair of black pants. We do have black in the collection, but we wanted to play with the color that you want. It’s so hard to get a color tone right. Did you know there are over 200 shades of purple and only ten that are in that year! We work with an Italian mill and all our colors are custom made. Its a very intricate process to decide on what that purple is going to be.
BYT: Wow. That’s incredible.
SL: Yes, and we also have four categories [of dresses] for the Fall 2012 collection. 1) the Minimalist category or day to night look. The dresses are all made out of very high quality Italian fabrics. Dresses you can wear to work at 9 am or go to dinner at 8 pm and still don’t feel out of place. 2) the Purist category – this is your Italian jersey and soft cottons. You really have to touch and feel it to get a sense of it. It’s amazing…to feel like I’m still in my pjs and be in a finance meeting. 3) the Voyageur is for the frequent traveler! The Voyageur designs use fabrics from a Japanese mill that literally don’t wrinkle. It’s mind-blowing good! And finally there’s the 4) the Combo category. The Combo looks appear like two separate pieces, but really its a dress (that looks like a silk top and pencil skirt). Typically, silk top tends to wrinkle and fall out. So, with the Combo, the silk top is actually part of the dress.
BYT: What’s the greatest challenge in creating your own workwear line?
SL: Its been an incredible ride! The challenges of being an entrepreneur. I had this incredible job at this private equity firm. One day I was in Garment District and it started raining! And I was completely drenched. Literally three months prior, I was flying to Paris on business and now I’m standing here in the Garment District, piled in fabrics, drenched in the rain. Did i make the right decision? Was it all worth the risk? And now I love what im doing. Now that I have a real product out. But, it was’t easy. It was a long time of grappling with it.
BYT: And the biggest reward?
SL: The customers! When a woman tells me she loves my dresses. These women have nothing to gain to tell you that they love your dresses. A lot of professional women admit dressing for work previously was such a challenge. It’s these moments for me that are so rewarding. As of right now, we just have one shape and size 0-14. But, our fit is 8-9 times — usually fit is 2-3 max. Fit was something we really wanted to perfect. And generally women have so responded so positively to the fit. Fit is the difference as to whether you feel confidence or a blob. That was of critical importance. We were really playing around with every single detail and every single millimeter. Even Miyako said she had never worked on perfecting one garment so much.
BYT: Office dos and donts – Glamour edition: GO!
SL: 1. Take hints from other women in the office. We are very fortunate to be in a generation where there are a lot of older women in the office. Take a look at what they’re wearing. And don’t get your whole wardrobe together before you start that first job. Every office interprets business casual differently. Feel out your office! My office, for example, allows certain types of jeans and not other types. 2. Add flare – jewelry, shoes, bags! Women show off their personality and character through accessories more than with low-cut shirts and skirts with huge slits.
BYT: Ultimate fashion/style icon?
SL: My mother. She’s 65 now and she has immaculate style. And that’s exactly what I want to be. I lived in Paris for a while…Paris is a city for adults and women who really enjoy fashion, you know. I’m looking ten years ahead. I always want to make sure that I am wearing what I love. What makes you feel good. And you’re not wearing for anyone else but yourself. In Paris, the women live this way. The happening bars and cafes are filled with adults – women in their 60s and 70s enjoying themselves. New York is a much younger city that drives culture. In Paris, older women drive the culture- really drive culture.
BYT: Destination workwear? Any looks you’re craving to put together for the professionally chic and the pro-traveler?
SL: Funny you ask. The cocktail and trunk show scheduled for June 14 is themed “You Career Will Travel!” LOVE South Africa! What about fabric that shields you from the UV-rays? We could work with a Japanese mill and play creatively with the latest fabrics that are coming out and how to incorporate the fabrics into the garment. I would love that.
BYT: Mantras to live by?
My mother always says, “The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak.” I can be very focused and determined. But, I can also be very stubborn. Be flexible be nuanced. It’s important to open yourself up to new opportunities and experiences and not be afraid to take risks.
BYT: What’s next for Mémé LAFLEUR?
SL: E-commerce site in September! That’s our next big thing! We’ve just been selling through trunk shows.
BYT: YES! We’re thrilled. Any dream looks ahead?
SL: Pants that change length depending on the height of your heel. If you are wearing pants that are long and you have to fold them. How do you create a pair of pants that change length? Is it a zipper is it a button? Laughs.
BYT: And last, but certainly not least, any advice for the DC woman?
SL: Be playful!
GO TO: Mémé LAFLEUR + KEEP checking this space for more scoop on local style, fashion news and more. THANKS, SARAH!