Eva Longoria knows her fashion stuff, down to the stitching. The 41-year-old Golden Globe-nominated actress, producer, activist and businesswoman is flicking through a rack of clothes, ticking off the changes that each piece requires.
“The leg on this pantsuit is too wide. We’re trimming it to more of a cigarette pant,” she pointed out. “This blouse we have coming in a little too sheer — it’s going to be a little heavier weight so you don’t have to wear a camisole under it and you can wear it at the office.…This is a great shell, but this seam should really come up higher to right under the bust.”
This story first appeared in the April 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Longoria isn’t just critiquing any old rack of samples — it’s a preview of her Eva Longoria clothing line, which will make its debut this fall in the 250 The Limited stores throughout the U.S.
Anyone who’s ever met the petite actress knows she’s a powerhouse. Even in 2004, when WWD was among the first media outlets to report from the set of the then-about-to-premiere ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” Longoria made an impression as the most focused and ambitious of the quartet. While that may not be quantifiable, the evidence is pretty convincing: She earned a Globe nomination for her role as spoiled model-turned-housewife Gabrielle Solis on the long-running primetime soap, and has since gone on to establish a foundation that helps Latinas build better futures for themselves through education and entrepreneurship. She’s produced and directed several projects, and stars on the show “Telenovela,” for which she is also executive producer.
Longoria entered the retail game with a home line for J.C. Penney Co. Inc. that launched in May 2015. Her Eva Longoria collection for The Limited is her first apparel venture, but not her first experience creating clothes.
“I learned to sew as a kid. All I wanted for Christmas was a Singer,” she said. “At first, all I could sew was straight lines — curtains, pillows, duvets. That’s why I started my J.C. Penney home line. But if it had a sleeve or arm or leg, I was like, ‘no.'” At least until she became a teenager. “When I was in high school, I would go to Jo-Ann Fabrics and get scrap fabric and patterns on sale to practice with. That’s how I learned to cut on the bias.”
She recalls dresses being the first project, notably “a maxidress that had an elastic back that I would make for everyone.”
She also had a sewing machine in her trailer on “Housewives” and picked up tips from the show’s costume designer, Cate Adair, about topstitching and ironing seams. Longoria has even worn her own creations to Hollywood events, where she’s often photographed wearing some of her favorite designers, including Naeem Khan, Carolina Herrera and Vivienne Westwood.
“I made a lot of my dresses but I never told anyone. And if you looked at it really hard, you’d be like, ‘Your seam’s falling apart,” she chuckled. “Sewing zippers is still a challenge for me.”
One can’t blame her for not having the time to perfect her zipper skills. “I am an entrepreneur. I am an educator [she holds a master’s degree in Chicano Studies from Cal State Northridge]. I am a filmmaker. I am a director-producer. I am an actor. Each one is a job. Now my clothing line is a full-time job. And it’s like ‘oh s–t, that’s hard to do,’ but I fully embrace the responsibility that comes with each role that I’m playing.”
In fact, social media — she has 7.3 million Twitter followers and 2.3 million Instagram followers — has helped shine the light on her many roles and even who she is as a person. “They can go, ‘Oh, I saw on your Instagram you like cooking or that you volunteer.’ I was always all these things. The fact that I became famous just put a magnifying glass to it.”
She also scoffs at the notion that just because a lot of people may know her first as an actress — a platform that has, after all, helped her bolster some of her other projects, including a L’Oréal contract and her clothing line — that she has to stay within those confines. “Why can’t we be all these things at the same time? I don’t feel like I am reaching my full potential staying in my lane as an actor. I feel like I’m never doing enough. My mother raised four kids and had a full-time job, and she had dinner on the table every night at six o’clock. I had amazing role models, so when people go, ‘You do so much’ I’m like, ‘Everyone should do more.'”
That is what drew The Limited to Longoria after its first successful celebrity collaboration with her pal, Kerry Washington.
“We did some research on our client, who’s a sophisticated professional, and we were amazed at her response to how much she saw Eva as a strong woman activist who leads in all aspects,” said Diane Ellis, chief executive officer of The Limited Brands LLC. “They are inspired by her. She has a broad social footprint and active fan base that has rallied around her.”
Longoria partnered with Sunrise Brands (formerly Tarrant), which has manufactured sportswear for The Limited since the Eighties, with help from her representatives at Creative Artists Agency. “We ended up signing with Eva before having a set distribution in mind because of her knowledge of design, sewing and textiles as well as her universal fashion appeal and following,” said Gerard Guez, chairman and founder of Sunrise Brands.
The line features two of The Limited’s key categories — stretch denim and the bodycon dress — and is priced 15 to 25 percent higher than its core retail price of $49 to $160, with elevated fabrics such as an extra-strength power knit, bouclé, PVs that feel like real napa leather and polyesters that drape like silk.
While there are many pieces that reflect Longoria’s personal style — the pencil skirt, the blazer, the high-waisted trouser — the democratic fit and styling (several peplum tops and dresses and jeggings) are meant to cover wardrobe needs from work to weekend. There are graphic T-shirts sporting some of Longoria’s favorite tag lines, including “Life is too short to drink bad wine,” “Money doesn’t make you happy, wine does,” and “#winegoals.”
“You can see it reflects my interests right now,” she laughed.
To tease the launch, The Limited will unveil three to four limited-edition dresses online each week beginning July 25 until the full collection is available Aug. 15 at in-store shops.
“Because she’s a sewer, Eva is astute with aspects of fit; she knows what’s complementary to the body,” said Ellis. The collection also represents a change from The Limited’s usual approach, which it tested with Washington’s “Scandal” line, based on her television character Olivia Pope. That quickly became a record seller. This time, said Ellis, “We are looking for more of a personal-style lens. Eva’s is that kind of lens across demographics from ages 25 to 45 and income from the $75,000 to $150,000 to the $200,000 range, spanning ethnicity as well.”
Although Ellis declined to give sales projections, she said, “I think we have a tremendous opportunity with this collection. In addition to Eva’s style and positioning, it has a lot of opportunity because of the elements of stretch and fit, whereas the ‘Scandal’ collection was very tailored and more focused on the career component.”
Longoria will appear in the ad campaign, which will span traditional media as well as out-of-the-box digital components. So far, there are plans for a spring 2017 collection, with hopes to continue longer as the appetite for sophisticated middle-market lines continues to grow.
Said Longoria, “I feel like that’s where The Limited falls, for that young professional who wants to invest in herself but not spend a fortune,” said the actress. “The Eva Longoria collection is going to infuse a new energy into stores and hopefully bring a new customer while pushing their existing ones to take a little bit of a risk. I feel like it’s going to be a good marriage and I love the distribution. They have a good reach for the woman I want to sell to.”