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A look from Monse's fall 2016 runway show. Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images
A look from Monse's fall 2016 runway show. Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images

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Mapping the Rise of Monse, the Brand You're Seeing Everywhere

From Selena Gomez to Bergdorf Goodman, the label won some powerful fans in its first year out.

May isn't over yet, but Monse, a young brand that immediately took off when it debuted at New York Fashion Week last September, has already had a big month. First Sarah Jessica Parker turned up to the Met Gala in a custom Monse suit. (An 18th century menswear-looking getup inspired by the costumes in Hamilton, which provided a welcome respite from the stream of silver gowns cruising down the red carpet.) One week later, Selena Gomez unveiled her Revival tour costumes, including a sparkling bodysuit and black tearaway gown, also created by the brand.

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The thing is, that's pretty much par for the course for Monse, which is solidly on its way to mainstream name recognition. But while its path has some trappings of a startup fairy tale — a first-time venture; a five-person staff handling orders from Net-a-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman in its first season — the line hardly appeared out of the ether.

Instead, it's the result of something called ‘putting in the time.’ Years of it, even. Monse was founded by two former Oscar de la Renta staffers, Laura Kim, 34, and Fernando Garcia, 30, both of whom worked closely with the designer until his passing in 2014. Kim was design director, Garcia a designer. As key players on de la Renta’s small team, Garcia and Kim got to know buyers and editors well. When they struck out on their own, those acquaintances were watching.

"I tell everybody who's going to school to get experience at a house because you make a lot of mistakes and they pay for it," Garcia says over the phone. "But what you also get out of it is the trust of retailers and merchandisers."

Stylists, too: Garcia managed Oscar de la Renta's celebrity clients, which earned him the respect of stylists like Cristina Ehrlich (Allison Williams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Kate Young (Dakota Johnson, Selena Gomez), and Erin Walsh (Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington). "When we started, they were right there," he says.

Selena Gomez Monse Selena Gomez performs in a look by Monse. Photo: C Flanigan/Getty Images

They certainly were. Parker and Amal Clooney were photographed wearing pieces by Monse even before the brand held its first runway show. In early October, Lady Gaga wore a silver off-the-shoulder minidress from the collection on Jimmy Fallon. Ten days later, Sienna Miller stopped by Fallon in another off-the-shoulder Monse minidress — striped, this time.

Selena Gomez has perhaps been Monse’s biggest celebrity supporter to date, for the simple reason that the brand's elegant, easy aesthetic is a perfect match for the grown-up, post-Bieber image she started fine-tuning in advance of her album release last October. Monse dressed her multiple times before Christian Classen, the stylist for her Revival tour, asked Kim and Garcia to submit sketches for a costume.

In their first collection, the designers focused on classic shirting that looked like it had been pulled on in a hurricane, possibly in the dark. One model strode down the runway in silky, billowing pants with sleeve-like waist ties and a matching collared top cut to slip off the shoulder when unbuttoned. Another wore a black, shoulder-baring gown with mock sleeves tied at the breast bone, a style that Gomez wore out later that month. With strands of hair falling into their eyes, the models looked casually rich and very cool.

Monse A look from Monse's debut collection. Photo: Albert Urso/Getty Images

For fall 2016, shown in February, Monse kept playing on undone shirting, while steering into suiting-inspired looks and a greater diversity of textures, like velvet and a crinkly, voluminous laminated taffeta. Though reviews were less universally glowing than they were for its first collection, they remained positive, and in mid-March Monse earned a nomination for the Swarovski Award for Womenswear at the CFDA Awards on June 6.

"For a collection that is so new, there is something already so identifiable about a Monse piece," writes the stylist Cristina Ehrlich in an email from Cannes, where she's dressing Anna Kendrick.

Ehrlich frequently collaborated with Kim and Garcia on custom red carpet gowns while they were at Oscar de la Renta, a relationship that's carried over with Monse. At Vanity Fair's Oscars after-party in February, Ehrlich styled Brie Larson in a pink velvet gown from the brand's fall 2016 collection, which Larson accessorized with the Best Actress statuette she had just won. ("After a long season of formal gowns, it was the perfect dress to celebrate in, and was so true to Brie's aesthetic," she writes.)

With its relaxed but glamorous aesthetic, Monse is in a good position to showcase its designs on the red carpet and then offer more accessible ready-to-wear pieces stemming from those designs, Ehrlich points out. "The crossover doesn't necessarily work for every designer, but I think with Monse, it's incredibly strong," she writes.

Monse Monse designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia backstage at their spring 2016 show. Photo: Mireya Acierto

Sarah Rutson, the vice president of global buying at Net-a-Porter, says that Kim and Garcia have a particular knack for cocktail looks that don't project the fussiness that some designers' eveningwear pieces do. "If you're just going to a restaurant, you wouldn't be overdressed," she says on a phone call. "But you could go to an event and look amazing and uncontrived and modern."

Rutson hadn't met Kim and Garcia while they were at Oscar de la Renta; instead, she first heard from them via a LinkedIn message sent while they were readying their spring 2016 collection last April. Rutson says she was immediately taken by their articulate explanation of their business and, once she'd seen some sketches, their vision of reworked shirting. She wasn't the only buyer who jumped on Monse once she saw the brand's work: Kim says she and Garcia had only planned to sell spring 2016 to Bergdorf Goodman and Net-a-Porter, but wound up with a list including Fivestory, Kirna Zabete, and Neiman Marcus.

Monse will have a longer list of stockists for fall, and though Kim says she'd like to nail down a few more international accounts, the brand is good on stateside retailers for the time being.

"We want to make sure we can deliver on time," says Kim. "In the first year or two we do want to take it a little slow, and after that, if we're super under control, we'll see."

In the coming weeks, Kim and Garcia will show two resort collections: one for Monse and one for Carolina Herrera. The two knew Herrera from their time at Oscar de la Renta; she asked the pair to design that range. "I think the best way to put that is we're getting to know each other," Garcia says of their relationship with Herrera.

At the moment, everyone seems to want a piece of the action. Monse's challenge now will be continuing to build its business, even when it's no longer the hottest, youngest brand out there.

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