Elizabeth Street Meets Shoshanna
We spoke to fashion designer and mom about the importance of a great-fitting dress, the perfect mom-friendly shoes, and how she's learned to say no
When fashion designer Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss started her company almost 15 years ago, it was out of necessity. She couldn't find appropriate dresses and swimsuits to flatter her curvy figure. Today, Shoshanna’s thoughtful and pretty dresses are staples in the wardrobes of women everywhere. During the growth of her company, Shoshanna herself became a mom and realized the importance of making moms and daughters everywhere feel good about themselves. Her seven-year-old daughter, Sienna, also inspired her to create her BabyGirl swimwear line. We got a chance to chat with the designer, born and raised in New York City, about everything from to her summer plans to Sienna’s fashion sense. —Melissa Schweiger
What compelled you to become a fashion designer?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with fashion. Starting from when I was 12, my body looked like a woman’s body. It was very difficult because my friends were all wearing these little Laura Ashley smock dresses. As I got even more mature, my body became so curvaceous and extreme that things really didn’t fit. I felt really excluded from fashion and it was very frustrating. I'd walk through stores like museums—I admired the clothes but could never buy anything. The first pieces I created for the line were three dress shapes—my dream dresses—and all of them had adjustability. I hit a nerve when I launched the line because we sold out.
What pieces are you most excited about from your spring/summer collection?
We did a new twist bandeau top this year and it’s selling out everywhere. It’s the best bathing suit top we’ve ever made. We also did great beach cover-ups, and our dresses are so easy to wear. I just throw one on with my gold chain charm necklace and I’m ready to go. I love for my clothes be functional and easy to wear, but I always want to look pulled together so I feel like a dress is the easiest way to go. When it fits beautifully and it moves, that’s what I feel most comfortable in.
How do you tackle the footwear issue of staying chic yet still being comfortable?
I’m amazed and in awe of women who walk in heels all day long. Most of my day shoes are ballet flat shapes with about an inch wedge heel—Repetto makes a great one. I walk about two miles every day. I take the subway to the office from my house then walk to pick up my daughter. But that’s New York. Everywhere I’ve lived people are like, why are you walking so fast? I was born and raised in the city and I lived in California for college and I freaked people out by the way I walked. But life is short. People who stand still on escalators make me crazy!
How does being a mom inspire your work?
I love that my daughter is so proud of me. She loves to come to my office. She’s already talking about what kind of business she’s going to run one day! I do something I love and that keeps me fulfilled, and yet I still take her to school every day and pick her up every day. As a mom, I want to make sure I have a business that is celebratory of women and helpful. I want to make clothes that make women feel beautiful. I think a lot of the time fashion is not geared towards real women and it can be really damaging. Especially to a young girl who feels like she’s being excluded or ignored.
How do you balance your career with motherhood?
One thing I’ve learned is to say no. I used to have a very hard time doing that. I was torturing myself, trying to help people with every committee and every project. I get asked to a hundred lunches and charity things and I want to be there but I can’t do everything. My daughter comes above everything else. That's what makes me happy. I also feel really lucky that I started the business so many years before Sienna was born. I worked so hard and I played so hard back then, and am grateful that I got to experience that part of life. Now my social life is on the back burner. My friends understand that and I see them when I can. I’m happiest when I close the door at night and we’re all home safe and hanging out. There’s nothing I love more than Friday nights when we have the next few days together just to relax with no major commitments.
What are you most looking forward to do this summer?
One of my favorite things to do is go the bay beaches in the Hamptons. We pack a huge picnic lunch and I have one of those huge nets and we sweep the floor of the beach. I love exploring and catching frogs with my daughter and building fun memories. It’s those accidental moments that always turn out to be the moments you remember.
Enter the Elizabeth Street giveaway to win two sun-tastic swimsuit coverups from Shoshanna—one for you and one for your daughter!