January 16, 2003
Designer Fashions Hobby Into Business
When M.R.S President Molly Stern was growing up in Los Angeles and attending Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School, she felt out of place. "I fancied myself a tomboy, if you will," said the 30-year-old designer of the M.R.S label. "And I never really felt comfortable with my body, being a curvy, short woman in Los Angeles."
In a city where most clothes are made to suit Los Angeles' idea of the perfect female body type (tall and thin), Stern had difficulty dressing herself in a way that reflected her artistic style and enhanced her curvy body type.
"I have a high taste for fashion," Stern said. "But I'm a round, little, cute Jewish girl with size-C breasts and an hourglass figure, and it is hard to find clothes that fit and are cute and comfortable, and that don't make you feel like, 'Oh my God, I have to hold my stomach in,' or 'Oh my God, my boobs are so big they are falling out of my shirt.'"
Stern, who is also a makeup artist catering to a celebrity clientele, decided to take these sartorial matters into her own hands. When she moved to New York in 1998, and found herself housebound during the harsh winter, she decided that she needed a hobby.
"It was snowing, and I didn't know what to do with that, so I started to sew these sexy T-shirts," she said. "They were sort of punk inspired and had a deconstructionist feel to them -- very sort of raw and organic and were very conscious of flattering the body."
After getting rave reviews about the T-shirts from her friends, Stern took them to a downtown Manhattan store, where they were sold on consignment. The T-shirts quickly sold out, and the store needed to order more.
In the meantime, Stern's roommate, a celebrity fashion stylist, asked Stern to make a shirt for actress Claire Danes, which Danes wore in public. Stern also asked many of her actress makeup clients if they were interested in garments that she made -- and they were.
"Slowly but surely things like that started happening, which gained a celebrity buzz," said Stern, who called her label M.R.S, after her initials (Molly Rebecca Stern). Today, M.R.S clothes are likely to be seen in the fashion pages of Vogue and worn by celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Milla Jovovich, Gisele Bundchen and Julianne Moore.
The philosophy behind the label is that women should feel "modestly sexy," an idea that Stern said was inspired by her religious upbringing.
"I went to yeshiva myself, and I feel very aware of being appropriate and being able to be in any sort of situation and feel good about who I am and what I look like," she said. "And that was always a struggle for me within the community of being an artist and being more avant garde than the average yeshiva girl, so I constantly had a struggle of feeling secure of this is who I am and this is what I look like. [M.R.S clothes] were marrying the concept of wanting to be accepted and appropriate and wanting to be unique and individual."
In a an interview with Nylon magazine, Stern described her personal clothing style as "lady and the tramp," and, to some extent, M.R.S clothes ascribe to the same philosophy. Simple T-shirt jerseys are gussied up with ruched bustlines, held together with small strings of beads and sequins. Many of the seams are hand-sewn, with overlocking stitches on the outside of the garment, with asymmetrically cut hems, sleeves and necklines that create the kind of disheveled look that would be welcomed at a Paris fashion show.
M.R.S had its debut fashion show last spring at Barneys New York, and The New York Times called the clothes "a delight." Stern found herself inundated with orders -- more than 1,000 pieces were ordered from the collection -- meaning that Stern and her small team of six workers in Brooklyn had to work overtime to fill them.
Although M.R.S clothes are expensive (prices start at $60 for undershirts and go up to $5,000 for the couture dresses), there is such high demand for them, that Stern is now looking for investors to help her expand the company.
"I don't know one woman who hasn't at some point in her life spat at herself in the mirror because she didn't like the way she looks," Stern said. "My mission is to make that not happen anymore."
"If you feel good in your clothes, you can do anything," she continued. "If we can inspire a nation to feel satisfied and exude their unique sensuality or sexuality without it being obvious, then I think it is a really exciting idea."
M.R.S clothes are available at Barneys and Ron Herman (formally Fred Segal) in Los Angeles. Â