Ever wonder what it would be like to quit your day job and launch your dream career? Sarah Miyazawa LaFleur did. She stopped managing the luxe goods portfolio of a private equity firm and started the line M.M. LAFLEUR along with her Head Designer Miyako Nakamura. They're on a mission to create functional workwear that Sarah likens to "luxury performance gear." We think they're right on point.
Between Sarah's previous work located in Paris and New York and Miyako's long-standing career in fashion, working as the head designer at Zac Posen, these women have the cred and then some to take the working woman's style world by storm one gorgeous sheath dress at a time. Simple, beautifully made and fit, meticulously designed, these clothes are like nothing you've picked up at your standard work wardrobe haunts.
Think of them like canvas molded into a perfect silhouette, ready for accessorizing and updating whether your style is timeless or trendy. And, that canvas is made of insanely comfortable textiles that move with your body, so you can be on your feet or at your desk comfortably.
Find out what motivates them, why they're not another Club Monaco and what one of the best parts of being an adult is.
theFashionSpot: What inspired the name of your label? Double “M?”
Sarah Miyazawa LaFleur: I named the brand after my mother–my muse and inspiration–whose nickname is “Mé Mé.” Mé Mé is a child’s way of saying “eyes” in Japanese, and my mother is called “Mé Mé” because of her big, beautiful, dark eyes.
tFS: Tell us how you two linked up and when.
SML: We met in the spring of 2011. I was introduced to several designers when I was looking for a Creative Director, and Miyako and I instantly connected. Part of it had to do with our shared experiences growing up in Japan, I'm sure, but I think we connected on a deeper level. We have a similar appreciation towards working—what it means to us, and the role we want it to play in our life—and it's been a dream to build a company with someone who shares that vision.
tFS: What do each of you bring to the table in your collaboration?
SML: I play two roles when it comes to design: providing Miyako with the professional woman's "dreams" and her "rule book." I'll say something ridiculous like, "I want a machine washable dress that's as comfortable as pajamas that I can wear on 3 hours of sleep and still look like I got 8." I'll also share the unwritten corporate dress code: "Please make sure my bra strap isn't showing." Or, "I can wear a V-neck dress but I can't have a V-cut in the back of my dress." It may sound obvious to most professional women, but it isn't to most in the world of fashion!
Miyako Nakamura: I bring the "artistic touch" to our clothes, whether it’s the cut of the dress, a nuanced color choice or another small detail to make the dress special. Throughout my career, I have been surrounded by creative people and as a designer, I live in a dress-code free environment…I am really enjoying my role at M.M. LAFLEUR because I am now able to create pieces for the evolving working environment, and bring my creative vision to beautiful and functional dresses.
tFS: What's the dynamic like when you're working? Can you give us a brief day in the life?
SML: I have to say that Miyako and I spend surprisingly little time together in the office. In fact, we work as though we're in different time zones. I'm in early, and I'm working mainly on my laptop or with members of our team. She comes in later, works mainly with our other co-founder and COO, Narie Foster, and works late into the night. She is also always out and about meeting with various suppliers and manufacturers.
It's actually only during the fittings—when she's fitting the clothes on me—or during a much needed trip to the bar (a start-up remedy) that we have a moment to say hello. I think the only reason our relationship has worked so well is because we inherently trust that the other person is making the right decisions for the business.
MN: I have worked in this industry long enough to know when inspiration isn’t coming to me. When I don't have a "light" in my head, I have to go search for it—whether it’s visiting vendors, going to the factory, doing market research or seeing artwork. So, I do not really have a set "daily routine." But Sarah and I check in with each other and are in constant communication—things always feel like they are in sync.
tFS: What do each of you find the most rewarding about your work?
SML: For me, it's interacting with our customers, without a doubt. We often sell our dresses through offline channels—our pop-up store, various trunk shows—and there's nothing that compares to knowing that we made her feel that "oomph" you feel when you're wearing something special. We've had a woman write in to tell us that she interviewed in our dress (and got the job). Someone else told us that she got the confidence to quit her job in one of our dresses. We also had someone get married in one of our dresses at her courthouse wedding! I can confidently say that no other job I've had has delivered this level of joy.
MN: Being able to see our product on so many women! I have worked on many fashion shows and have seen breathtaking garments (and I still cherish clothes as art, as I always have), but this brand is about life and reality. We often receive messages from customers that our dresses are part of special moments in their life: winning job interviews, life interviews (i.e meeting boyfriend's parents) or giving them confidence for an important meeting. And this "life" that comes with our product (and hearing and knowing about it), is by far the most rewarding aspect.
tFS: What do you find the most challenging?
SML: It's the most challenging, and also probably the most intellectually stimulating part of the job: taking new data—which we're constantly fed, being that we sell directly to customers—thinking through the implications, prioritizing and executing against it. That, and schlepping. There's a lot of schlepping in fashion.
MN: BEING PRACTICAL. By nature, I adore anything that's genuinely just beautiful—I tend to choose aesthetic before function. I am the type who would chose a beautiful heavy wool coat over a more functional puffy down coat. So, I of course love expensive cashmere that you cannot wash and beautiful silks that you have to dry-clean to care. The challenge for me is to find something beautiful and affordable and add an element of function. I would say that is what our customers appreciate most about our collection. For example, our dresses that have long-sleeved silk tops come with removable under arm inserts – helping you to save money on your dry cleaning bill.
tFS: What sets M.M. LAFLEUR apart from Club Monaco or another go-to label for workwear?
SML: I won't delve into too much detail, because you have to try it to believe it…but we like to think of our clothing as "luxury performance gear." We test everything we make over and over and over again until we believe that it couldn't possibly get any better within our cost constraints. Typically, a dress designed by a high-end luxury brand is fitted on a real human being 2-3 times. We fit it on real human beings, and multiple ones at that, at least 8 times.
tFS: What can you tell us about your blog, The Ampersand, on your site?
SML: When we launched the blog, we really wanted it to be about the customer, who we like to call "The Ampersand Woman." Who is 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.
tFS: Do you wear your clothes? If so, do you have a favorite?
tFS: What are your favorite ways to dress up your simple pieces?
SML: I'm kind of a "simple is best" type of person, but I like to pair our most simple dresses with muted animal print shoes. Snakeskin, leopard, crocodile… None of it is that loud, but I think it shows that I give a (tiny) damn about style, you know?
tFS: What can we expect in the future from your label?
SML: I'm an optimist at heart, so naturally I have larger-than-life ambitions for our brand, but my most important dream is that we don’t stray from our core: to be the leading brand for the modern day, purposeful woman, and to make her look and feel beautiful. That, and pants that change length depending on the height of your heel!
tFS: If you weren't a designer and an entrepreneur, is there another career option you'd consider pursuing?
SML: I'm surprised I'm not working in the bushes in a developing country somewhere…That's what I thought I'd be doing my entire childhood. Then again, I used to hate mushrooms and thought Power Rangers were real, so I suppose it's all part of growing up. And being able to change your mind and live your life accordingly is one of the many beauties of being an adult.