M.M LAFLEUR really started when founder Sarah LaFleur was a young girl watching her mother dress for work. As an adult, Sarah felt that dressing for her management consulting job in NYC just wasn’t evoking the image of a powerful businesswoman that her mother’s stylish clothes always had. She decided to fix the problem herself, launching M.M. LAFLEUR with fashion designer Miyako Nakamura and systems engineer Narie Foster. The M.M. LAFLEUR team members utilize their combined set of skills to create impeccably stylish, functional, work-appropriate dresses. The brand’s constant focus on customers’ needs—paired with a dedication to delivering beautiful, high-quality, and accessible clothing—easily explains its success!
You focus exclusively on work-appropriate clothing that looks great on real women. Can you tell us a little more about what guides M.M. LAFLEUR and your dresses?
Have you ever walked into Bergdorfs, looked at the dresses from Alexander McQueen, The Row, or Roland Mouret, and thought, “Beeeeeautiful! Now, let’s go see what Zara has to offer?” I wanted to offer an alternative to both the beautiful designer dress that costs your entire paycheck and the thrifty, fashion-forward piece with questionable quality and fit. At M.M. LAFLEUR, we design every dress as though we were running a luxury fashion house, while keeping in mind that these dresses are for purposeful women. Our designer, Miyako Nakamura, brings her high-end fashion experience to every piece. We source our fabrics from the finest mills in Italy and Japan, and make all of our garments in New York City. By cutting out the middlemen and selling directly to customers through our website and trunk shows, we’re able to sell dresses—that would otherwise have to be sold for $1,200—for a fraction of the price.
Miyako and Sarah discuss the latest mood board. Architectural inspirations on the horizon!
You seem like you think a lot about your customers while designing for M.M. LAFLEUR. Can you tell us what things you try to keep in mind about them and what needs you try to meet?
Really, she (the customer) is always with me, wherever I go and whatever I do. What we believe in more than anything is that our customers are purposeful women: they are women with dreams and ambitions who will do something with their lives. The implications are both philosophical and practical: many of our dresses are machine-washable, and we’re always conducting lots of test to make sure they’re work-appropriate. (For example, can she bend forward in the dress without revealing her cleavage?) There are already a lot of pressures when you’re trying to succeed; finding the right outfit to wear to work shouldn’t be one of them!
It’s all in the details! Each dress comes with a description of how the dress is made.
How did you get into clothing design?
The real story dates back to when I was little, when I used to watch my mother dress for work. I thought she was the most powerful woman on the planet, wearing her brick-red lipstick and her tailored suits from Paris. Fast-forward 20 years; I had my dream job at a management consulting firm in New York, and—well, I just didn’t feel like that powerful woman in my poorly tailored, ill-fitting clothes. So I decided it was time to make a change: to eradicate ill-fitting suits once and for all, and to create a line of beautiful yet professional dresses.
You’ve talked about your personal experiences (with clothing and otherwise) influencing your business—can you tell us more about this?
Before I started M.M. LAFLEUR, I worked in Paris and New York managing a luxury goods portfolio for a private equity firm. Before that, I was working in South Africa, studying business opportunities in agriculture and its impact on food security. When I write them side-by-side, I realize how disparate these jobs must sound, but to me they’ve been part of one big journey: understanding how to make beautiful things while sourcing and producing responsibly.
Sneak peak! Miyako working on our latest collection.
Do you have any advice for someone hoping to break into clothing design?
I am not a designer by training, so my advice comes from someone who primarily understands fashion as something practical, and as a business: know thy customer. She will give you all the answers to all your questions.
What are your favorite aspects of running a business?
My favorite aspect of running a business, hands down, is that I can now choose who I work with: authentic, talented, and kind individuals who are always opening my eyes to something new. This is by far the best part.
“All of our dresses are made and packaged lovingly in New York.”
Do you have any tips for women who want to be work-appropriate but still stylish?
My Japanese mother, who taught me everything I know about workwear, had two things to say to me when I started working:
1. “Show style through your ‘extremeties’.” By extremeties, she meant your hair, your ears, your nails, your shoes, etc. Her philosophy is that taste is demonstrated through details: a leopard-print dress is a no-no, but leopard print heels could be just the right amount of style.
2. “Your workwear size is different from your weekend-wear size.” If you’re someone who likes to wear figure-hugging clothing on the weekend, size up when you buy workwear. If you’re someone who prefers a baggy look, size down when you buy workwear.
Can you tell us about the journey behind developing M.M. LAFLEUR into a successful brand?
I think that the success of our product lies in treating each dress in a way that few designers have before: as a creative yet highly analytical experiment. Every part of the clothing development process is done in-house, which is extremely rare for a fashion brand. Every dress goes through an average of eight prototypes before it goes into production. Ultimately, we only release products that we stand by one hundred percent. Every dress, in our mind, is the perfect product.
How do you sparkle?
By being in good company and growing a great company.