I developed early, which to a ten- or eleven-year-old is totally scary. I went to an all-girls school, so I was lucky in that way, although girls were not that easy on me. I was dealing with older girls saying, "You need to wear a bra," and I was just horrified. Even back then, I felt like there were these moms who thought I was too sexy, or sexual. I was like, "I was born this way; I didn't do this on purpose."
I would go shopping, and nothing worked on me, from age 13 until I started my line, really. I would walk through stores like they were museums. I thought things looked beautiful. The preteen clothing either didn't fit me at all or looked so overtly sexy that I couldn't get away with it. So early on, I realized I had to come up with my own style, that I did not have a trendy body, so trends were not going to be my friend. I had to figure it out.
Obviously, there was no Internet shopping. What existed in the late '90s felt very homogeneous in style. It was sort of 90210, Melrose Place styles, and the waifish Kate Moss look. Dresses had no shape. They all made me look kind of dumpy, and I had to have everything altered; and I had to do things like sew beads onto my bra because they would show through, and I wanted to make it look pretty and intentional. Especially with swimwear: I had all my bathing suits custom-made. My mom found this place. The quality was really just so-so, and they were insanely expensive, but at least I could wear a bikini that was sort of like a bra top, and a cute bottom, and I felt good in it.
I went to UCLA and graduated in 1997, and while I was in California, I worked in a boutique called Tracey Ross. It was the coolest boutique at the time (though nothing in it fit me). Sure, there was Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, but there were very few independent lines. There was no Scoop back then. There was no Intermix. There was, like, Tocca, and Anna Sui, and, obviously, Betsey Johnson, but it wasn't the array of designers that it is today.
While I worked at Tracey Ross, there were a lot of young girls who came in to show Tracey their designs, and sometimes she would buy them, try it out, give them a shot; I know this planted the seed in my head. I guess I had envisioned that to have a clothing line you needed $100 million, and factories, and a thousand people working for you, and then I'd see these girls who had these cute ideas, who had made some samples, and then they did a production of maybe 30 pieces, 40 pieces, 100 pieces.
As I stood in the store, day after day, I wanted to be able to help women feel beautiful, and celebrated, and not walk through a store wondering: Why doesn't anyone want to dress me? So I moved home after graduation, and one day that summer I just had this epiphany: Why don't I start a line of clothing that is more inclusive of more women's bodies? I know what's not out there, and I know what I want.
It was the perfect recipe to start this. The line was to address many different body shapes, by making sure dresses were bra friendly. I used boning or unique design construction to do so. More than anything else, I was thinking about woman bodies as I designed.
I did an internship in a factory for a few months and learned the trade, then I came across a place called Total Control. What they did, it was all in-house, they had pattern-makers, they had production people, so everything was done in one place. That was how I started. I found a multi-vendor showroom and bartered with and borrowed from everyone. In the showroom, Bloomingdale's had come to see a different line, but they also saw my line, and they liked the concept, and they thought they'd try it out.