McLemore designs for some of the most influential
and affluent women in America.
won’t hear her name at Fashion Week or in red carpet
coverage. But Nina McLemore designs for some of the most
influential and affluent women in America: Hillary
Clinton, DuPont Co. CEO Ellen Kullman, former New Jersey
Gov. Christine Todd Whitman .
more law firm partners, executives, entrepreneurs and
civic leaders wear Nina — pronounced NINE-uh, as her
clients refer to her brand — for their most decisive
are not neutral Armani suits, though the design,
tailoring and fabrics rival European luxury brands.
McLemore’s jackets are known for vibrant color,
sometimes in lightweight tweed, often in double-face
wool crepe sourced from Italy. Her garments are sewn in
New York, where McLemore can monitor production.
jackets cost from $595-$795, versus $2,000 and up for
Chanel — a value proposition that financially savvy
last week at my company’s Partners Summit," DSC
Logistics CEO Ann Drake said, "I welcomed key
customers in a gray and white jacket, red silk T and
black pants (from Nina). Then two days later, I met DSC’s
Board of Directors in a red silk jacket and white silk T
(from Nina). These are company colors, by the way."
69, McLemore is steeped in the apparel industry. She
rose through the ranks at May Department Stores, founded
Liz Claiborne Accessories and then worked in private
equity before she retired.
friends lament the lack of high-quality professional
clothing in stores, she went shopping on Madison Avenue
was there was either extraordinarily expensive or
cheaply made and moderately priced, "not for the
successful partner or C-suite executive," she said.
knew she could fill the void.
professional career has demanded long hours, extensive
travel, presentations to CEOs and clients, and dinners
and fundraisers," McLemore said. "I understand
what the professional woman needs."
came out of retirement to launch her line in 2001. She
now has 14 stores in cities such as Seattle, San
Francisco, Boston and Atlanta. The collection is also
sold through representatives who meet with clients
privately in homes or hotel suites, and online at
in her career, McLemore flew to Europe and Asia several
times a year as vice president/general merchandising
manager for May Department Stores’ international
immersion in the fashions of France and Italy and the
strong sense of design in Japan and China influence my
sense of design," she said. "The travel also
led to my insistence that every fabric we put into the
collection has to travel without being ironed."
upbringing in Mississippi, where she and her mom
designed and made their clothes, also shaped her
aesthetic. Elegant. Not trendy, flashy or revealing.
the South it was crucial to be seen as a lady," she
said, "who was someone who dressed very well —
whether she had money or not."
grasps why other brands don’t court executive women.
Many designers strive to generate celebrity buzz for
their brand, which leads to lucrative accessory lines
and perfume licenses.
do not see the serious professional woman as glamorous,
nor do they recognize that there are very many of
them," McLemore said. "So let’s keep this a
customers’ median age is 52; income, $250,000; size,
Pampered Chef founder Doris Christopher began wearing
Nina 15 years ago, partly because she likes the personal
service of the national sales representative, who visits
key cities five times a year. (The Pampered Chef also is
a direct sales company.)
jackets never wear out or wrinkle, Christopher said.
"They go all day and into the evening without
president of Harley-Davidson Financial Services, Donna
Zarcone first bought Nina more than a decade ago when
they met through the Committee of 200, whose members are
women who own companies with more than $25 million in
sales or who are CEOs of major corporations. McLemore
became a founding member while at Liz Claiborne
Zarcone, president and CEO of the Economic Club of
Chicago, has more than 10 Nina jackets on rotation.
delivers timeless styles with rich fabrics that wear and
travel well," Zarcone said.
Lissner, executive director of commercial real estate
firm Cushman & Wakefield of Illinois, said women in
her male-dominated field always stand out.
wearing Nina’s clothes adds another dimension of
awareness," Lissner said.
notion that they should blend in or dress like men is
style, quality and taste is important to successful
career women," she said.
G. Bellows, founder of The Bellows Law Group PC,
concurs. She often sports multicolor Nina jackets with
black or brown pants, especially for business travel.
were always told to wear black or navy skirt suits with
simple white or beige blouses," she said.
"Women attorneys need to make a power and
credibility statement and learn to use clothes as
negotiating tools — setting the mood as part of
setting the agenda."
who often is tapped for public speaking engagements,
sees two common missteps in how women dress for
is not buying fine fabrics in styles that fit
well," she said. "Men understand fine fabrics
and have everything tailored. So if a woman is wearing
lower quality and poorly fitting garments, she is not
taken seriously. She is not seen as a ‘player.’"
second is wearing clothes that are too short, tight or
won’t mentor and don’t want to be seen associating
with women who look too sexy," McLemore said,
"and other women won’t like you."
believes women who want to ascend should dress for the
job they want.
the best quality jacket you can find and have it
tailored to fit. Wear expensive jewelry, even if the
same piece over and over. And don’t wear black all the
time," she said. "You won’t stand out."