When 30-year-old fashion entrepreneur Molly Stern was still a teenager, her boyfriend took her to a museum to gawk at the Botticelli paintings. “That’s your body,” he told the cute, curvy pubescent girl. “They’ve been painting you for centuries.”
Of course, most Jewish women who can’t squeeze their hips into a pair of made-for-shiksas slim-fit jeans don’t have an artsy romantic around comparing them to a Renaissance canvas, and the temptation is often to drown their frustrations in a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Not so for Stern. She designed a whole new line of clothing line, one that manages to be trendy and sexy no matter what sort of body lies underneath .
“It was about being sexy and still being able to go to a rabbi’s house for dinner,” the down-to-earth designer said of her sartorial mission to create easy-to-wear yet elegant apparel. Stern’s designs are roughed-up, “arts and crafts,” cutting-edge couture. They feature snagged fabric, serrated hems and range from the lounge-about variety to backless dress numbers that swish with one’s hips. They are targeted to appeal to hip, fashion-conscious members of the second sex, who — big surprise, here — may not have a body like Christy Turlington and may wish to keep at least part of that body under wraps, so to speak. “You can wear my clothes while nursing your baby and to pray in shul,” said Stern, whose versatile stylings are, ironically, a hit among the starlet set.
Growing up in an observant Southern California household, Stern attended Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School, where her eclectic “Coco Chanel meets Yoda from Star Wars” sense of style was curtailed by the strict dress code of an Orthodox school for which Stern stuck to ankle-skimming skirts. Today, yeshiva girls and downtown scenesters alike are all going gaga over Stern’s delicious collection of slashed deconstructed dresses, jersey T-shirts with ruched bust lines and sweet, flared skirts. Stern’s sexy but simple designs also feature her signature inverted, exposed stitching and delicate appliqués galore. “I like medieval, punk-inspired designs,” said the fashion maven, who plays guitar in a Black Sabbath cover band called Hand of Doom, soon to release its first album, “Live in Los Angeles.”
But before she became the fashion industry’s breath of fresh air, Stern began her career as a make-up artist to the stars, brushing the rouge à lèvres onto the lips of such Hollywood hipsters as actress Drew Barrymore and rock star rebel Courtney Love. Stern did the makeup for music videos, commercials and even traveled on tour with Hole, one of her many forays into the world of pop rock.
In 1998, aching for a change of geography, Stern moved to New York City.
There, while slogging through one of those frosty, East Coast winters, the disgruntled fashionista became fed up with being unable to find clothes that fit her curvy, size 36-C frame. “Modesty became a reality and an issue for me,” said the stylish shomer Shabbes couturier. “I had a lot of respect for my body, and I wasn’t comfortable with my big boobs and my hips. I was part of that self-hating gender. I was surrounded by ultra-thin actresses and models and all these people getting plastic surgery. But as I became a woman, I was ready to embrace my body and my sexuality, without being obvious about it.”
But there was nothing subtle about Stern’s fast-emerging talent with a needle and thread. As a hobby, she began hand-sewing deconstructed T-shirts made out of stretch wool in her tiny, Brooklyn apartment. “The girls in Hole were wearing all this goddess-y clothing, which I found really inspiring,” said Stern. She shlepped the finished Ts to a downtown Manhattan store, which enthusiastically snapped up a few.
They quickly sold out. Next thing you know, Claire Danes is wearing one of Stern’s cinched blouses to some celebrity red carpet event. And the rest, as they say, is indie design house history.
Stern, whose label M.R.S (her middle name is Rebecca) can now be spotted on such A-list celebrities as supermodel Gisele Bündchen and screen queen du jour Reese Witherspoon, didn’t even learn how to use a sewing machine until she was 26. “If a button fell off a shirt, I took it to the dry cleaners,” the “alternative glamour” designer said candidly. In keeping with that dyed-in-the-wool tradition, Stern and her tight posse of fellow designers at M.R.S seek to create one-of-a-kind, hand-stitched articles of clothing that reflect the personality and individuality of each beautiful body whose corporeal form they drape. You can spot M.R.S clothes within the glossy pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. Last September, M.R.S creations were sent strutting down the runway on models such as Missy Rayder during its debut fashion show at Barney’s Co-op in Manhattan. Borrowing from a scene in the Marilyn Monroe cinema classic “How to Marry a Millionaire,” Stern dubbed each playful outfit such Palm Beach-y monikers as “Active Arts and Leisure.”
Speaking of millionaires, M.R.S clothes (which retail anywhere from $100 to $5,000) are certainly not cheap. But they are well worth the splurge, for they reflect the style and attitude of a sophisticated, moralistic Jewish girl from L.A. who believes firmly that one need not bare her breasts to feel confident, strong and sexy. Still very much in love with her “hot” bat mitzvah dress, a luscious pink-and-chantilly lace Jessica McClintock ensemble, Stern’s designs celebrate the female figure. Her clothes possess a sort of raw, handmade-from-scratch quality. Even when spotted in a publicity press photo, each piece appears as though it were tailored especially for you.
The fashion-savvy public agrees. M.R.S is becoming so successful that Stern is now on the hunt for investors to help her expand the company. “We’re a lifestyle brand,” Stern said of her brainchild label. “You can wear my clothes to synagogue services at shul and then out to a fancy dinner with friends.” Of course, while supermodels running around at parties championing her clothes is arguably the best endorsement, Stern offered one of her own: “When you wear M.R.S clothes,” she proudly beamed, “you’ve never felt so good in your body.”
M.R.S clothes are available at Scoop and at Barney’s.