Interview with Yvonne Nappier, Maria - Gabrielle Inc.Moe: Making clothes is a family affair. You've spent a lot of time learning from your mother and grandmother, both seamstresses. What was the most important thing you learned about clothing and sewing from them?
Yvonne Nappier: The most important things I learned from them are to use quality fabrics and to never scrimp on workmanship. My grandmother would make you sew a seam over and over again until you got it perfect. I can see her now standing over me with the seam ripper. Since we were pretty poor and only got a few new things a year, our clothing had to be able to stand the test of time and you cannot achieve that with poorly constructed textiles and shoddy sewing. I still have dresses in my closet that were made over 30 years ago, that still look new. I adopted those same principles for Maria-Gabrielle.
Another thing I learned was to spend the bulk of my money on timeless items. We all want to incorporate a few trendy pieces but they look best combined with classic pieces. Too many trendy items and you look tacky; too many classic pieces and you look matronly. Take the jacket and pair it with a hot pair of jeans and some funky jewellery or the trousers and pair them with a puff-sleeved tunic. Yes, you'll pay a pretty penny for them but these are the items you'll have in your wardrobe forever.
Moe: Where does the name Maria-Gabrielle come from?
Yvonne Nappier: I never thought that the name of my business would intrigue people so. This is the number one question I am asked. Maria is my middle name. It represents my personal style which is classic and somewhat conservative. When I was younger, I had a friend tell me that I always dressed like I was going to the country club when we went out dancing. On the other hand, my daughter's middle name is Gabrielle. She is all glitz and glam! She'll pair her rocker boots with a peasant skirt, Mardi Gras beads and her little white church sweater and head off to school. That is the soul of this business. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Moe: Why Plus-Size clothing?
Yvonne Nappier: I guess my primary reason is very selfish. I personally want quality apparel for my plus-size frame. I'm 5'10" and used to be a size 8 so this plus-size body is new to me. However, the only thing that changed was my size. I did not wake up one day and decide I'd rather wear a tent, in lieu of an Evan Piccone suit. I liked dressing well at a size 8 and I like dressing well at a size 16. However, the selections are slim to none for those of us who desire a little more than pull on pants and big shirts.
A few years back, I was going to some function and needed a simple black cocktail dress. Now I wasn't looking for anything dramatic, just something appropriate. I went to five or more high-end stores and the only items available were void of style. I went home and cried and did not go to the affair. I don't want anyone else going through that! It was humiliating. When you wear my designs, I want you to cry because you've never looked so beautiful. I have no interest in designing anything else but plus-size clothing.
Moe: What kind of plus size woman would work well with your designs?
Yvonne Nappier: When I design I lean heavily on coordinating pieces, fabrics that glide and drape well and color palettes that work with the fairest to the darkest skin tones. Statistics show the most common body shape is the pear. The top portion of the body is significantly smaller than the bottom half. With coordinates you can grab whatever size works for you. This enables us to design for a broader customer base.
As far as attitude, I design to accentuate what the good Lord gave you. Although I believe modesty goes a long way, I don't believe the answer is wrapping a sheet around you. It took me two babies to get these breasts. I proud of them and I scoop them up and push them together every chance I get. My customers feel the same way I do. They feel sexy, beautiful and confidant and want clothes that reflect their personalities. I challenge any full figure woman who doesn't feel that way, to purchase the lime green silk dress on my website and tell me they don't feel 100 times better. If you don't have attitude when you buy them, you will after wearing them.
Moe: Customers don't get the immediate satisfaction from Maria-Gabrielle like they would from ordering elsewhere. For instance you're currently promoting the fall line-up which will be delivered in the fall (or up to 4 weeks away). What advantage is there to the customer for a wait like this?
Yvonne Nappier: We initially planned to only sell to retail establishments because online sales take an enormous amount of working capital. However, when I first sent out an email to my online friends to solicit their feedback, I received a tremendous response from individuals who wanted to know where to purchase the items immediately. I turned a lot of people away because I wasn't set up to sell directly to them. The only way I could accommodate them was to take orders and ship later. In a retail establishment, my collection will cost approximately 200-300% more. That's going to knock most consumers out of the ballpark.
In the meantime, I think the delayed shipping may help some women to really think about their purchases and how they work with their current wardrobe. It deters impulse buying which leads to returns and dissatisfied customers. When you plan your wardrobe you maximize your dollars. You are more likely to purchase pieces that work together. If all you want is to feel good "now"...then save your money and go get a good slice of cheesecake. You'll get the same feeling for $5. As we grow, we hope to be able to stock clothing for immediate sales but we need the support of our customers now to be able to do that.
Moe: What do you think your designer pieces offer over a shop like Lane Bryant or Torrid?
Yvonne Nappier: Maria-Gabrielle's collection offers the same quality that one would expect from Armani, Lauren and Karan. Our garments are considered designer wear. They should make up the foundation of your personal collection. Everybody should have a good interview suit, cocktail dress and the perfect cream colored blouse you can count on. Lane Bryant and Torrid are considerably more casual and trendy in style. We both serve a faction of the market and can be coordinated beautifully.
Moe: Your site currently features eight amazing designs (I love the chocolate linen suit). Are there plans to grow the selection with each season?
Yvonne Nappier: Most definitely! One of our principles is to include new pieces every season that can be coordinated with items from past seasons. As long as our customers keep us in business, we promise to keep pumping out some fabulous designs.
Moe: Any hints as to the designs we can expect to see in the future? More career? Party dresses? Casual?
Yvonne Nappier: I am currently working on the spring collection. It is inspired by my longing to visit Capri, Italy. This collection is influenced by the formality of the Vatican, the beauty of the sea, and the joviality of the community, all with a twist of glam. We are also looking at bringing on a wonderful design team from Los Angeles and eventually look at creating a line of shoes and handbags.
Moe: Can you leave us with a favourite fashion tip you'd recommend?
Yvonne Nappier: I've got two tips that will make you look like a million dollars. Purchase good foundations and alter your clothes to fit your body. A good bra, body slimmer and control pantyhose lift and smooth out your curves, not to mention stopping some of the jiggling. With the right foundations, even your old clothes look new again. In addition, most women cannot wear clothing off of the rack. If you try on a garment and it is tight, go one size up and have it altered to your body. Never buy tight clothing!!! Find yourself a good tailor and spend the extra ten to fifteen dollars to look and feel great.