Career confession, and one that some of you might relate to: when I was applying for college many moons ago, I really had no idea what I wanted to major in. But I also hated the idea of going into college undeclared (which was totally silly, but I blame it on the control freak in me). So I did what seemed practical — I declared a business major. Not only did it make a lot of logical sense, but by going business, there was one recurring daydream in which I could constantly indulge. Here’s the gist of it: if I majored in business, it would mean that I could wear awesome power dresses to work, and rock them with sky high stilettos in my corner office overlooking a sprawling metropolis.
I may have watched one too many rom coms in high school.
Of course, the minute I got my first ‘corporate’ internship, I quickly realized that awesome, power work dresses (or any other work wear for that matter) are kind of hard to come by, and that wearing stilettos while driving an hour each way in LA traffic was completely ludicrous. Later jobs never required the power suit or power dress, but if they had, I would have been ecstatic to discover M.M. LAFLEUR, a fantastic new line of dresses that transition seamlessly from work to cocktails. Along with a large selection of options for every body type, M.M. LAFLEUR also offers a “dress finder” feature, plus the option to have up to four dresses sent to you to try on before you commit to buying them.
M.M. LAFLEUR was founded by Sarah LaFleur, and also counts Miyako Nakamura (formerly of Zac Posen and Jason Wu) as its Creative Director. I was interested in learning more about the duo behind the brand, how they got started, and their thoughts on the fashion industry. Check it out below!
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUNDS. HOW DID YOU GET INTO CLOTHING DESIGN? DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE DESIGNERS/ENTREPRENEURS?
Sarah: Before starting M.M. LAFLEUR, I worked in Paris and New York for a private equity firm where I managed its luxury goods portfolio. Before that, I was working in South Africa, working with entrepreneurs to identify business opportunities in agriculture to improve food security. When I write them side-by-side, I realize how disparate these jobs must sound, but to me they’ve been part of one big journey: understanding how to make beautiful things while sourcing and producing responsibly. I never thought to myself, “I want to be an entrepreneur one day.” I still don’t really think of myself as one. I just fell in love with an idea, and that idea was to make beautiful clothing for the purposeful woman.
Miyako: Before joining M.M. LAFLEUR, I was working in the world of luxury fashion, mostly at Zac Posen. I started as an intern, and left there as head designer 7 years later. I loved the sheer creativity behind designing and working on runway shows, but I was also at a point in my career where I was beginning to wonder what the next conceptual “shift” in the industry would be. I had a feeling that it would be some sort of co-existence of art and commerciality. I wanted what I designed to have purpose. That’s when I met Sarah.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE DESIGN PROCESS?
Miyako: I adore every process of designing, but my favorite part is witnessing the transition from concept to reality. I am very conceptual with my designs, so I need aesthetic reasoning behind them. When things come together as I intended and when I see the result with my own eyes — that’s a heart-shaking moment for me. Seeing our purposeful women in MM dresses with such grace! To be able to experience that moment first-hand through trunk shows was something that never happened when I was working at a design house. It’s been one of the biggest gifts in starting M.M. LAFLEUR.
TELL US ABOUT THE M.M. LAFLEUR COLLECTION. WHO ARE YOU DESIGNING FOR?
Sarah: We’re designing for the next wave of professional women that we like to call the “Ampersand” (&) woman. She is someone who isn’t defined by one “thing”, one noun, or one adjective. It originally started with the idea that women should embrace being both powerful and (&) sexy, ambitious and (&) feminine, but I think she’s actually much more than that: she’s someone who may appear somewhat contradictory on the surface, but is wholly integrated and happy on the inside. I have a lot of respect for women who embrace their multiple sides, and think that that’s an ideal and authentic way to live. (editor’s note: I LOVE this!! Don’t you?)
AS YOU DESIGN FOR EACH NEW SEASON, TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROCESS. ONCE YOU GET INSPIRED, HOW DOES A DESIGN GO FROM YOUR IMAGINATION TO THE RACK?
Miyako: We’re a fashion brand, but we don’t have fast and hard “seasons” or “collections,” which is highly unusual in the world of fashion. Not having collections was something that Sarah strongly believed in from Day 1: “Professional women don’t care if the dress they’re wearing is SS13 or FW14; she cares that she looks amazing.”
As a result, we treat each dress like its own unique project. Sarah will give me a vague idea of one dress she wishes existed–for example, she’ll say “I want a dress that feels like pajamas for those days when I’m working on 4 hours of sleep,” or “I want a dress that lets me feel sexy while still looking professional” — and I’ll pour my attention into creating that one perfect dress that really epitomizes that idea.
We don’t stop there, though. After we release that dress, we’ll continue to iterate it and release updated versions (like the iPhone) based on trends I’m feeling, and of course, customer feedback. For example, we’ve gone through three versions of the Lydia dress: Lydia 1.0, Lydia 2.0 and now, Lydia 3.0. It’s a beautiful, simple shift dress that we’ve had in our collection since Day 1 that we’ll continue to update as we grow. I want to constantly push the boundaries to incorporate what I feel is “fresh” into each of our designs, but ultimately, I want our clothing to be classic pieces that withstand the test of time.
ESPECIALLY WITH THE INFLUENCE OF BLOGS AND SOCIAL MEDIA, HOW DO YOU THINK THE FASHION INDUSTRY WILL CONTINUE TO EVOLVE OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
Sarah: What a great question — my outlook is very optimistic. I think social media and e-commerce will enable designers to design styles that meet the lifestyles needs of more women, and that fashion as an industry will see a lot less “waste.” As a professional woman I just remember being so frustrated on the 2nd floor of Bloomingdales, when I would see a shirt that, from the front, looked completely work-appropriate, and I would then turn it around to discover a big cut-out that would reveal the bra strap in the back, and I would think to myself, “Why is nobody designing for women like me?!”
Designers don’t get to hear this kind of feedback when they are selling through department stores, but e-commerce and social media has turned that on its head: when our customers don’t like something about a dress, we hear about it, Miyako hears about it. In short, I think the industry will be more efficient, and everyone — customers, designers, and business owners — are going to be happier with the results.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS? THE MOST CHALLENGING?
Sarah: The best part is that you have control. The worst part is that you have control. I relish in knowing that if something needs to be changed, it’s up to me and my team to do something. The flip side of that is that if something isn’t going right, the onus lies with me. You feel everything very acutely — both the success and the failures. It’s an emotionally-charged and intense experience. I love it, I am always exhausted, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN WHO ARE INTERESTED IN STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS? WHAT ABOUT THOSE THAT ARE INTERESTED IN DESIGNING CLOTHING?
Sarah: Here, I must borrow from Nike and say, “Just do it.” (There is a lot of other practical advice I can offer so you don’t repeat my mistakes and fall flat on your face when you “just do it,” but that is a conversation for another time!). I spent a lot of my 20s having semi-existential crises about what to do with my life, especially with my career. Whether it was management consulting or finance, I always had this little voice in my head that was wondering “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?” I don’t know if M.M. LAFLEUR is what I’m “supposed” to be doing; all I know is that since I started this, that little voice has quieted down and I’ve stopped looking for “the next thing.” That’s the best I can ask for for now!
Miyako: As we mentioned before, I think the industry is changing. I guess it always has been and always will be, just like the rest of the world. Always keep your eyes and ears open. The best thing you can do no matter what your field is, to know yourself and do everything you can do to satisfy your heart. Having a strong perspective of your own and believing in that perspective brings you to a place where you can play more!
Sarah: my mother’s brand, Club Sah
Miyako: Venessa Arizaga
Item of clothing you’ve ever made?
Sarah: errr… the one skirt I sewed took me four months and looked horrible! Can I say the Mae dress?
Miyako: my wedding gown
Fashion designer? (other than yourself!)
Want a little more LAFLEUR? Check out their adorable video here: