By  on July 26, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Ella Moss is not just about T-shirts.

The Los Angeles contemporary line, cut from a butter-soft pima cotton-Modal blend, merges comfort dressing with a fashion-forward sensibility that customers are demanding.

"I've had women tell me that they've worn the same Ella Moss dress for three days straight," said the brand's designer, Pamella Protzel. While the example is extreme, soft, colorful knits have become a staple in the contemporary marketplace.

Business at Mo Industries, the Los Angeles parent of Ella Moss and the T-shirt line Splendid, has jumped to $55 million from $5 million during its first five years, industry sources estimated.

Founder and president Moise Emquies credited part of his company's gains to the California denim boom.

"Denim and garment-dyed T-shirts go hand in hand," he said. "People want soft goods to wear with comfortable jeans."

Southern California has been fertile ground for premium T-shirt companies, among them Three Dots, Juicy Couture, James Perse and Michael Stars. Like Juicy, Ella Moss has moved beyond the fashion T-shirt into a fashion collection with signature pieces — scoopneck tops and body-skimming dresses — that are being copied by fast-fashion companies such as H&M and Zara.

The lines sell in 1,000 stores nationwide and in top European retailers such as Collette, Brown's, Selfridges and Le Bon Marché, as well as in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Emquies estimated about 15 percent of company sales come from Europe.

Emquies, a native of Morocco who immigrated to Los Angeles 33 years ago at age 10, made his first T-shirt in 1992 when a friend asked him to help her design one for her store. He was awaiting results of the California bar exam and welcomed the project, although he had no fashion experience. Emquies eventually practiced law, but after a year realized that he preferred apparel. So he founded Mo Industries and a now-defunct sportswear line called Leopold.

"The problem with that line is that it didn't have a strong identity," he recalled. "The good thing was that I got an education in fabric and color."

Enter Protzel, a Los Angeles native who joined the company in 1997 upon graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. When Emquies decided to close Leopold in 2001, the two created the concept for Ella Moss, which is derived from Protzel and Emquies' names.

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