Questions for Nina McLemore Why did you leave corporate America and become a fashion designer? Actually, I have been a fashion designer as long as I can remember. Growing up, my mother and I designed and made everything I wore (except blue jeans). We spent hours selecting the fabric, cutting, basting and making my clothes. My Mother was very particular about fabric. Even as a teenager I only wore linen, cotton, wool or silk and our collection is still primarily natural fabrics. I founded Liz Claiborne Accessories in 1980 and by the early 90’s it became clear to me that the department store business was not a growing one, so I decided to leave and get my MBA to learn more about how to finance a business. I then founded a Private Equity firm with 2 partners and invested in small consumer and women owned businesses, but did not like being a minority investor. Many of my professional women friends asked me to consult with them on their wardrobes and I realized that there was a serious lack of clothing that was elegant, well made and that fit the lifestyle of busy women. The other driving force was that I wanted more money to give to charity, primarily focusing on women, children and the arts. Thus the creation of Nina McLemore, Inc. What do you hope your clothing line does for women? My goal is to make simple, beautiful clothes from fine fabrics that compliment a woman’s style. Clothes that are clean, understated and elegant – that she can wear anywhere in the world. Clothes that travel and look good at the end of the day. It is important that the collection fits women who are size 0 and women who are size 18, who are petite and who are tall. I want to design clothes that will make women feel attractive, comfortable and that they will always be tastefully dressed where ever they go. We spend a lot of time on color and fit. You will find that we specialize in bright clear colors. It may take up to six fittings to make sure that the fit is perfect and that the garments will fit a wide range of body types.
Where do you get your fashion inspiration from? We of course look at the trends from the major international designers – or at least the ones I believe have a strong sense of style, not what is “in fashion”. The fabric mills, particularly the northern Italian, French and British mills are great inspirations. There is an Asian inspiration to the collection as I love the clean simple styles, the bright colors, and wonderful embroidery patterns and have spent a lot of time in China and Japan. I have also studied the great textiles woven in Florence in the 16th and 17th centuries, the beautiful silks, tapestries and velvets. Most of all, I am inspired by our clients and often think of certain women and what I have seen when women put something on and it makes the most beautiful aesthetic picture! There is always an element of practicality as the clothes must be comfortable, and look great at the end of a long day! Who influenced you or helped you break into the clothing business? All of the women in my family were great seamstresses. My grandfather died quite young and my grandmother supported herself by designing and sewing. My Mother taught me great tailoring and how to create my own personal wardrobe. I did not think of this as a career, but on the ship on the way back from my junior year in France, I met two women who had been to Paris to the couture shows, and I immediately understood that I could have a career in fashion. What 7 living or dead people would you invite to a dinner party? Katharine Graham, Audrey Hepburn, Hypatia, Clare McCardell, Catherine de Medici, Angela Merkel, and Janet Yellen Where do you see your line in 10 to 20 years? I would like to have national coverage with about 25 Nina McLemore Stores, 300 women who sell our collection privately through trunk shows in their community and an active internet business. In addition my first international store I would like to have in London, and expand to France, China, etc.
There is a worldwide need for our type of clothing. The name international designers concentrate on the top 1% and women who want the latest fashion item. Most of their business is accessories and cosmetics with the runway fueling the demand for other products. I want to provide women who are professionals and who choose to focus on their femininity and power and need elegant clothing. Clothing lines come and go. Do you have any fears regarding the future of your line? While everyone talks about the pace of technology innovation, a designer has to create 4-6 collections a year and make each of them new and different from the one before. Even a technology company does not have 4-6 releases a year. We have to constantly reach new clients and provide new and interesting clothing for our existing clients. That is a constant challenge. What untapped market do you hope to break into? Our clients tend to be women in their 40’s to 60’s – the baby boomers – as they have the appreciation of fine materials, that we make the collection in the U.S. and can afford the $700-$800 for a jacket. They also understand the importance of the image they create and the impact on other people of how they look. The next market we will develop is the upper end of the millennials who are now becoming the business and community leaders of the next generation and for whom the fashion industry designs casual and party clothes, but not “I am to be taken seriously” clothes.
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