Q&A With MM. LaFleur’s Cofounder Sarah LaFleur

Get details on the professional-wear brand's pop-up shop, open in DC through the weekend.

Women’s professional wear brand MM. LaFleur has set up a pop-up shop in Washington this week, running through the weekend. This week Washingtonians will be treated to a sneak peek of the brand’s premier outerwear line as well as special events happening nearly every day of the pop-up’s run. We were able to catch the brand’s coufounder Sarah LaFleur during her busy week for a quick Q&A. Read on to learn about how the women of DC, a city she called home briefly during her more formative years, have inspired and shaped her views on fashion.

Why DC for a pop-up shop?

We felt a lot of love from DC—though that isn’t to say we don’t feel the love from other cities. LA is a great market for us, but there’s also a lot of fashion activity going on in LA; the same could be said of New York. We wanted to do something a little bit different, and DC has the potential to be very fashionable.

What events are happening in conjunction with the shop?

Thursday we have an event called Women in News that features Betsy Fischer Martin, formerly of Meet the Press, and CNN’s Elise Labott. On Friday we have a Women in Entrepreneurship evening, featuring Mrs. Nobuko Sasae, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the US. I will be speaking, as well. It’s a pick-your-flavor pop-up store.

What items should we expect to see?

It’s the first time we are launching coats to the public. (We’ve only been on presale to our VIP customers.) This is the first time anyone will be seeing them. We’re also releasing a lot of our holiday gifts baskets. We have a professional woman’s gift basket. It’s a really cute case made out of beautiful coating fabric, and inside it has everything from stain remover to hand cream and sewing kits—anything that a professional woman would need. We also have beautiful pieces of jewelry. We tend to do more subdued, elegant jewelry that you could wear any day, but we’re releasing kind of bigger pieces that are perfect for the holiday season. They’re just beautiful, beautiful pieces of jewelry that are under $200, so very accessible, as well.

What about those rumors claiming you’re looking to stay here permanently?

[Laughs] That’s definitely a rumor that has legs. We are looking into a few places. We love our DC customers, and they seem to love us. In fact, they’re our second biggest market outside of New York, which caught us by surprise. We thought it might be LA or San Francisco or Chicago, but it turns out it’s DC, and by a long shot. So we have a lot of love for DC. We’d love to be on the ground here.

Why do you think the Washington woman loves MM. LaFleur?

Ninety-nine percent of why our customers love our product so much is because they can see the high-end tailoring. It’s very simple things, like seams. We tend to not do side seams, which is basically a seam that runs down the side of your dress. Instead of two seams, we try to do four, which creates a more three-dimensional dress so that curves fit nicely. You don’t have to be a flat, thin person. I think Miyako Nakamura, my designer, has been able to bring a lot of thoughtful architectural elements into her design. What we hear from customers so often is that it looks like just a simple dress, and it’s not until you put it on that you realize how much thought has gone into it. With professional wear you can’t really do anything too crazy, so it’s really the simple details that can elevate a dress.

How has women’s professional wear evolved?

I think people are showing more of their personality. I think about when I was working in consulting and “leaning in” hadn’t really started as movement. In the past four years we saw so many conversations happening, and it’s funny because clothing hasn’t really taken center stage. I think the conversation about clothing is just starting to happen. I think a lot of people shy away from it—they think it’s too trivial, and they want to be taken seriously. But the truth is clothing actually matters a lot, and clothing choices reflect what you stand for and how you want to be perceived. So I think a lot of women are starting to think more about it, and getting bolder with their choices, more demanding. They don’t want to wear the same boring suit or the same kind of pants. They are looking for more options, and hopefully that’s where we come in.

What do you think of Washington style?

I have to say, the customers I’ve met from DC are very stylish—they care about good taste, and they care about good fashion. I’m inspired every time I come down to DC. There are all these hardworking women who are trying to make it in whatever industry they’re in, and they want clothes that reflect that. And I’m sure whether it’s House of Cards or Scandal, those shows play a role, too. You know, She works so hard and she looks so good. I think a lot of women want to feel that way—especially when you’re at work for 12 hours a day and that’s so much of who you are as a person. My DC customers are really inspiring, very fashionable, and not schlumpy in the least!

You spent some time here during your youth. What fashion inspiration did you take away?

My mother is a huge, huge inspiration—I named the company after her. Her nickname was Mm. She was kind of always in the limelight, being my grandfather’s daughter [he served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1991 to 1993], so she needed a lot of clothes that made the transition from day to night, from the office to a cocktail party or a reception. I grew up watching her getting dressed for work every day, and that was the kind of essence I wanted to exude with my brand: that these are women doing lots of interesting things, going from one place to another.

MM. LaFleur pop-up. District Architecture Center, 421 Seventh St., NW. Wednesday through Friday noon to 8, and Saturday and Sunday noon to 5.