Designing a collection is a lot like creating a painting: except the brush is a pair of scissors, the canvas is cotton, the muse is your client. And that muse, at least for Shoshanna Gruss, is a woman with confidence, elegance, and maybe a little bit of cleavage (but we’ll get to that later). When you stop by your favorite boutique or scroll through the endless pages of clothes online, do you ever stop and think what goes into making the dress or pair of pants you’re adding to cart? I didn’t either… but once I learned exactly what the process is from paper to hanger, I couldn’t help but look at my clothing differently.

But first, here’s some background on the top tier designer walking us through the process…

Shoshanna is a true Manhattanite whose designs are inspired by the colors, moods, and emotions of the city. Growing up she was “blessed and cursed” with a large chest, and after realizing that most clothing on the market wasn’t made for her body type, she set out to design a dress and swimsuit line which would accommodate — and celebrate — a woman’s body. Now, twenty years later, Shoshanna is sold in the most prestigious shops in the world including Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bloomingdale’s, and more.

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So why dresses and swimsuits?

“I have always loved the idea of a dress because it is feminine and effortless. One piece and you are done.” Shoshanna told us in her dreamy studio. “Most importantly, I feel my best in a beautiful dress and I wanted to give that feeling to other women. As any busy woman knows, a dress that will take them from a 9:00 o’clock meeting all the way to cocktails with friends simplifies life just that much more.”

As for swimsuits, when Shoshanna started her design journey, all swimsuits were sold in sets. So if you were an L on top and an S on the bottom, you’d be stuck with either super showy cleavage or bottoms at your ankles. “I knew there were other women who faced the same obstacle and feared going swimsuit shopping; keep in mind this was before the days of ordering online. I wanted to make suits that would be inclusive of all body types, not just the standard small top and bottom. My production team and I set out on mission. We fit countless samples to achieve the same fit and support you would find in a bra. Two years after our first ready-to-wear collection, we launched Shoshanna swimwear which was an even bigger retail success than any of us could have imagined. Each suit featured a cup size as well as a band size.”

Shoshanna was literally the first person to ever suggest that tops and bottoms be sold separately, and that — coupled with her game-changing designs and patterns — made her swim line sky-rocket. Every swimsuit is made in NYC (two blocks away from her office). #MadeInNY

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So how does a design go from a sketchpad to hanging on a rack at Neiman’s? I’ll let Shoshanna explain.

“It all begins with one of my coffee-infused thoughts in the early hours of the morning. I send my design team various sketches for new shapes and color inspiration. From there, we put our heads together to decide which shapes work well with particular fabrics. What I envisioned in my initial sketch may end up changing because some fabrics drape better than others.

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Next, our design and production teams create a sew guide for the factories. In Layman’s terms, this is an outline on how to make the sample garment. This process takes anywhere from 2-10 days depending on the detail and complexity of the sew guide. Once we receive all the samples, we will edit and merchandise the line. We then shoot our lookbook which is the most rewarding part. I am able to see what started off as pencil marks on paper transform into a beautiful dress.

After we shoot the collection, we typically go through another round of edits. If there is something I don’t 100% believe in, we will remove it from the line. We then meet with buyers from local boutiques and department stores around the country. Our lookbook serves as a catalog to the stores. They are able to see the actual garments in person as well as photos on a model. Stores write orders which helps us get an idea for what the customer will like. If a store loves a dress, but really wants it an additional color, we will make that happen.

In the next 3 months, we have fittings to decide the final measurements for each garment. It can take anywhere from 2-5 fittings per garment to finalize the perfect fit. The fabric is then shipped to our factories to be made into what you will see hanging at Neiman Marcus.” 

So how did Shoshanna Gruss – who was just 22 when she started her namesake line – get into these premium retailers?

“When I first started my company, it was only me. I was handling all the sales appointments as well as everything else that went on behind the scenes. Bloomindale’s was my first appointment and I was ecstatic to find out they wanted to carry my line. It was a surreal moment to get the call that they sold 68 dresses the first day the clothes were on the floor.”

And now, 20 years later, a large portion of sales surprisingly comes from small boutiques.

“[Now,] we have a sales team that has built relationships with major retailers and smaller boutiques across the country. Most of the department store teams are based locally so our sales team is able to meet with them on a regular basis. A large portion of our business is with smaller boutiques. We work closely with them to make sure they are getting the best selection that will sell for their customer in their region. We know business is especially hard with the rise of e-commerce so we emphasize working as a team with these stores.” 

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Take every opportunity you get to intern or shadow someone in their field. Something I can’t stress enough, don’t forget the power of a handshake and handwritten note.

So what advice does this design boss have for anyone interested in pursuing a business in fashion?

“My best advice for those who want to get in the business is to continue to meet as many people as possible and keep those relationships. You never know where someone will be in a year or even ten years. It’s also important to stay true to yourself and what you believe in. Don’t get too caught up in the trends or let others sway you. The internet was not as prevalent when I first began, but is a great resource. You learn the most from experience. Take every opportunity you get to intern or shadow someone in their field. Something I can’t stress enough, don’t forget the power of a handshake and handwritten note. These two things will take you far.”

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