DALLAS — Molly Larkin, a former merchandiser at Ralph Lauren and sales manager for Giorgio Armani men's, bowed out of the industry in 1993, just days before the birth of her first child.
Four children later, Larkin couldn't resist coming back to fashion in an entirely different capacity — as the designer of an exclusive collection of hand-painted silk dresses, trenches, skirts and coordinating items.
"I was very happy to take off, but I knew I wanted something on the side, like an appetizer, to enjoy myself," Larkin said during a trunk show here earlier this month at Stanley Korshak. "I've always loved clothes."
For her label, Posey Shanghai, Larkin went strictly for luxury and elegance. She buys her silks from Buche Moreau in Paris, commissions De Gournay of London to supervise the painting in Shanghai and has the silhouettes hand-stitched by Nancy Caton at the Nancy Whiskey factory in New York. The seams are bound with vintage French lace that she collects.
Larkin styled only 16 classic silhouettes — such as sheath dresses, trenches and dirndl skirts — giving them life with the brilliant color and whimsy of her botanical illustrations. Peony and magnolia blossoms, sliced oranges and grape clusters are some of the motifs in her fall collection.
"They're classic and timeless pieces so a woman would collect them," Larkin said. "Rather than have new silhouettes, I want to do it all with my fabrics and illustrations."
Most of her artwork is inspired by California's Napa Valley, where Larkin has an 1832 home and vineyard with her husband, Jim, who owns Village Voice Media. She renders some of her other passions onto silk, as well, like coffee beans and a languid strand of black Tahitian pearls that were a gift from her husband.
"There is a refinement level that takes it back to old couturiers," observed Susan Lana, who buys the collection for Korshak. "It's for a sophisticated customer who understands it and is inventing their own personal style rather than a look off the runway."
Lana sees the subtle influence of Larkin's tenure at Ralph Lauren and Armani. "It's that same kind of effortless dressing," she said.Luxury has its price — in this case, $1,800 at retail for a solid blouse or skirt to $3,200 for painted dresses and trenches.
"It's definitely small production," said Larkin, who introduced her first spring collection this year at Korshak and has yet to seek another retail account. "Eventually, I'll put it in another store."
Larkin declined to discuss sales volume, adding: "I'm happy with how the first season went, and I see it growing. One woman at the trunk show bought four pieces."
She plans to do a trunk show later this month at a friend's home in Phoenix, where the Larkins reside in Paradise Valley during the school year. Lana will fly in to handle sales on behalf of Korshak.
The Larkins summer at their vineyard, Agave Rose, in St. Helena, Calif. They just introduced their first vintage, a 2004 cabernet sauvignon labeled Jack Quinn for their 10- and 11-year-old sons.
Like the clothing, its distribution is scant. The wine will be sold only to the acclaimed restaurants Bistro Jeanty and French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., as well as to the St. Helena Wine Center and friends. After all, they only have 155 cases.