LONDON — Two London-based Americans, both with decades of combined experience in fashion, are aiming to take the cotton jersey shirt to new heights with the launch of the label Livotte.
Delphine McNeill, a veteran of Barneys New York and Tuleh; and Beth Pollak, who’s worked for Lucky Magazine and Joe’s Jeans, decided they needed sharp-looking shirts that could withstand life’s challenges — and would not require dry cleaning.
They came up with a collection of eight organic cotton seasonless staples — in white or black — that can be thrown in a washing machine and dried flat, like a cashmere knit.
Made in London with fabrics sourced from the Midlands, in central England, the shirts cost 135 pounds, or about $175 at current exchange. They are mostly cotton, with a small percentage of elastane for stretch.
The shirts, which launched this month, are for sale on the brand’s web site, livotte.com, only — and there are no immediate plans to wholesale the collection.
“You can buy those beautiful silk tops from Maje and Sandro, but then your kid touches you, you burp your newborn, and it goes into the dry cleaner pile — and then forget it,” said McNeill, a former head of special events at Barneys.
The entrepreneurial journey was not easy: McNeill said cotton jersey is hard to work with and it stretches. She added it was difficult to find factories and pattern makers that were up to the job.
“We have had 11 incarnations of cotton jersey, four factories and three pattern makers,” said McNeill. (They are happy with their current pattern maker, who’s worked for Montana, Givenchy and teaches at Central Saint Martins.)
The shirts are named after stylish women, including Jane Birkin, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Coco Chanel, and come with various details. One has a high collar, cuffs and a slash at the back, while another has two wide ruffles down the front. There’s a belted style with short sleeves, one with quilting around the shoulders and another with a round collar and long sleeves with split cuffs.
The partners’ plan is to work navy and gray into the collection, unveil new styles every three or four months, and keep the bestsellers in the mix.
McNeill said she and Pollak made a deliberate decision not to wholesale because they think markups generally are too high and because they want to get to know their customers.
“We want to hear people’s feedback, so the designs can be [flattering] to many body types. We want to try and have something for everyone,” said McNeill.
Delivery worldwide is free, and while the collection may be British, McNeill said she’s aiming for “American customer service.”
McNeill, who is part French, with family living in the Alsace, is also adding a social element to the brand. Every last Monday of the month she and Pollak host a ‘Stammtisch,’ or friendly get-together.
“It’s something we do in Alsace,” said McNeill. “It’s just inviting women to come and have a drink at any time, chat about their horrible school runs, or network business ideas. It’s a real community — and the more the merrier.”
The September one takes place Monday evening at The Goat pub in southwest London, with no need to RSVP and an invitation to bring friends.
The two partners are also publishing a monthly newsletter that features a Q&A with female, London-based entrepreneurs and business people, all pictured wearing one of the tops.
McNeill said a social element is key to the success of any brand.
“The only people who have ever succeeded at Barneys — or at retail in general — came with their own customer base. You can’t make a product and just expect things to happen. You have to know and listen to your customers,” she said.