In This Issue

A Fashionable Bloodline

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sundays in Greenwich, Connecticut are probably not all that exciting for the most part, but for Meggie Kempner, growing up, it was the day her grandmother Nan Kempner—and her famously impeccable style—would come visit. “Getting dressed every day was such a big part of her life, and she enjoyed it so much,” says Meggie. “It was contagious.”

It certainly was. Meggie, now 28, and Chris Kempner, 30, her older brother, have started a women’s fashion line called Kempner. Meggie leads the creative direction and says she is indelibly influenced by Nan’s style, but translates it for a more modern woman: “It’s different in the fact that she was running around in couture!” says Meggie. “But she loved to mix and match. She had designers that she loved, but she never really wore one designer; she loved the aspect of styling.”

Meggie also took careful note of her grandmother’s classic New York poise and tries to emulate it in her designs. “One of the funniest things about [Nan] is she is so well-known for her clothes, but she was such an entertainer,” says Meggie. “I don’t know how she did it! She always knew the right mix of people to bring together so everyone had a good time; she had some sort of like secret talent. The meal was perfect, the music was perfect, the lighting was perfect, the group was perfect and the table settings were always beautiful.”

Many of those legendary New York hostesses are gone, and the understated elegance has been replaced by a much more grandiose style. Apartments and houses are larger; help is visible; food is trendy; drinks are branded; and style and comfort are oftentimes mutually exclusive.

“I’m trying to bring my grandmother’s New York back. New York is so special to us; we grew up here and now our office is based here. When I’m designing, I’m thinking about what New Yorkers are wearing and the New York lifestyle—it’s all about being able to transition from the office to going out, because how often are you able to go home and change?”

“Her personality was bigger than anything she was wearing; she was such a character,” says Meggie. That is the part of Nan’s spirit that she most hopes to capture in the Kempner collections; they’re designed to be suitable for a variety of situations—to take a woman from school drop-off, to work, to a dinner party—with one mantra carried throughout: “She always looks polished,” says Meggie.

Going back to those Sundays in Greenwich, “My grandmother would be wearing Levi’s 501s, a white button-down—which she always tied up around her belly button—and a sweater around her shoulders, with fun shoes and a fun bag. Even when she was just being totally casual she just looked so amazing,” Meggie remembers. “I couldn’t wait to see what my grandmother was wearing because it was never something you would have pictured together, and definitely never something you would picture your grandmother wearing!”

Funnily enough, Chris and Meggie are the first Kempners to make a real foray into the fashion business. Nan was an icon, along with being a contributor to French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, a consultant for Tiffany & Co., and working as an international representative for Christie’s. But she never designed. Meggie and Chris’ parents’ careers have been in finance, and their younger sister, Nina, just graduated from Yale with a degree in art history.

For Meggie, fashion was a natural progression and a longtime passion, but founding a brand was still a major decision that ultimately hinged on her brother’s trajectory. “I was at Ralph Lauren for four years, and at that time I decided that I really wanted to go out on my own,” says Meggie. “Coincidentally, my brother was graduating from Harvard Business School and he was like, ‘If you’re really serious about this, I’ll do it with you.’ It was perfect timing.”

For Chris, who handles the company’s business and operations, fashion was never an industry he thought he would enter. “My background is in finance, and this is just so different. I’m always so impressed just to witness the creative process though. It’s fun for me to layer on my own skill set.”

The Kempners’ first season was Fall 2014, and the line has been going—and growing—ever since. They will show Spring 2016 on September 10. They are getting ready to add preseason collections to their line and expanding from wholesale to direct-to-consumer with an e-commerce site. A brick-and-mortar store is an eventual goal for their brand.

As for the brother-sister duo working together, they both say they love how direct they can be when communicating with each other. “We’re 18 months apart, and she is probably my best friend,” says Chris. “It’s a relief because I’m coming from very formal, institutional settings where there is a certain etiquette and politics, restraint. I don’t have to do any of that with her—I just tell it like it is,” says Chris.

I had to ask what it was like growing up in the male-minority Kempner clan.

“It’s funny because I’ve always had these very powerful feminine influences in my life that have told me how to dress and how to look accordingly,” says Chris. “But over the years I think I’ve developed a little bit of my own style and a sense of myself. Living in New York and allowing whatever you’re wearing to be this outward expression of yourself is cool and fun and creative. Unfortunately, very few of my creative manifestations come out in our line. Or actually that is probably fortunate for our brand!

“I was told no T-shirts allowed today,” he adds, indicating the strong female fashion stances around him haven’t entirely fallen by the wayside. But he doesn’t seem to mind—as any smart financier would agree, when your advisors come from the best stock, you have to at least consider their opinions.

Photos by Gabriela Herman


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