Photography by Weston Wells

Personal fashion frustrations inspired designer SHOSHANNA GRUSS to start her own line. Fifteen years later, she’s still celebrating women and redefining trends.

Shoshanna Redefined

FAVORITE SPRING FASHION TREND?Wearing color. And this season I’m into a pop color shoe, like an aqua shoe with a hot-pink dress.”

FAVORITE SPRING BEAUTY TREND? “Bold, berry lipstick. I’ve been focused on the smoky eye, but for spring, I’m loving the cleaner eye with a bold lip.”

SIGNATURE FASHION PIECE? “No question: the fit and flare dress shape that we do — it’s the most flattering on almost anyone, because it gives you a waist and shows off the bustline … It’s my go-to.”

ULTIMATE FASHION "NO-NO"?Dressing too sexy. It’s a sign of insecurity, and there are many ways to accentuate your body without showing everyone all your stuff.”

ONE ITEM THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD HAVE IN HER CLOSET? “That one outfit you can put on and feel beautiful in, no matter what. Whether it’s a dress or pants and a blouse, it’s something simple and flattering that you can really get your money’s worth out of.”

In an industry often criticized for catering to and spotlighting women who are unrealistically thin, designer Shoshanna Gruss stands out as a bright spot for her celebratory view of a real woman’s body and the clothing she designs to fit and flatter it. You won’t see any plunging necklines or backless options in her collection, because honestly, how practical is that for the average woman? What you will find are plenty of creative designs and ladylike-yet-flirty styles. Gruss just celebrated the 15th anniversary of her line and is also the newly minted style director for Elizabeth Arden — becoming the first person to ever hold the title at the brand. American Way sat down with the designer to look at her last 15 years of success and her plans moving forward.

AMERICAN WAY: You studied art history in college. How did you end up going into fashion?
SHOSHANNA GRUSS: I always loved fashion, and I’ve always walked through clothing stores as if they were museums, but I have a very unique body type. I’m not plus size, but I’m curvaceous — and most clothing was made for a standard body type that I didn’t have. I was about to take a job in finance out of college, but I had this nagging feeling I could bring a niche to the market that wasn’t there.

AW: How did you get started?
SG: I designed three dresses that had built-in construction and had them in a group showroom. Bloomingdale’s saw them and placed a $30,000 order with me. Ten other stores bought the line at the same time; that spring we shipped to 70; that summer, 150. And now we’re in 500 stores.

AW: Your first swim collection in 2000 revolutionized swimwear. What inspired your idea?
SG: At the time, no one was selling swimwear separates. I thought: “No one would expect a woman to buy a bra and underwear in a one-size set, so why would you do that with swimwear?” We launched with 13 sizes in the top and eight sizes in the bottom, and we made a big push with the department stores. Now almost everyone does separates for swimwear.

AW: What do you consider to be your biggest success over the past 15 years?
SG: I have a woman-owned business that’s grown every year. I have 25 employees in my office and about 30 factories — those people’s livelihoods are a part of my life. I run a clean, tight ship that makes a really great product, and I feel like people are proud to work with us.

AW: Do you have a “bucket list” for the brand?
SG: I would love to do a lingerie line. I think my customers would love it. And I have so many ideas!

AW: Celebrities like Kerry Washington, Jennifer Aniston and Taylor Swift have worn your designs. Who have you been most excited to dress?
SG: It’s flattering to have any celeb choose one of my designs, but I get excited when I see someone on the street who spent their hard-earned money on my design. That’s the greatest for me.

AW: What does it mean to be the style director at Elizabeth Arden?
SG: I’m collaborating with the brand on trend forecasting and product design, and I’ll have a lot of consumer interaction. It’s an honor that they’ve never had a style director and they asked me to come on board and be one!

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