At the center of Rebecca Hessel Cohen’s story is the dress.
“The dress was what was always going to complete this whole big editorial story,” Hessel Cohen, founder and creative director of lifestyle brand LoveShackFancy, said in a conversation with Booth Moore, WWD’s West Coast executive editor. Hessel Cohen was talking about her wedding dress — and the subsequent bridesmaid dresses that she designed when she couldn’t find anything she liked in the market.
But as with any great story, there were other details, such as the flowers, the music and even the tent fabric at her wedding.
“All of it,” Hessel Cohen said, speaking over Zoom from LoveShackFancy’s Upper East Side, Manhattan shop. “For me, the whole story began as this one big editorial. The way that I see the world and the way that I see stories and the way that I see clothes is always just this much bigger vision that really begins with images and with this storytelling.”
The bridesmaid dresses led to Hessel Cohen to design her first ruffled miniskirt — “I basically wanted to perfect one [skirt] and to have that piece never go out of style,” she said — which led to more dresses, then ready-to-wear, children’s apparel, bedding and accessories.
These days, the start-up that Hessel Cohen founded in 2013 with her husband, real estate developer Todd Cohen, also includes swimwear, bridal, innerwear, sleepwear, cell phone cases, wallpaper and more. LoveShackFancy Shoes, eyewear and skiwear are coming soon, too. There’s also talk of beauty.
“My husband is beyond excited about [launching beauty],” Hessel Cohen. “Beauty shopping with our daughters is like their best activity.”
But dresses and skirts (which come with price tags ranging between $300 and $700) remain the company’s bestselling categories. In fact, in its eight-year life span, LoveShackFancy’s vintage-inspired pastel-colored dresses and uber-feminine flowing gowns have inspired women across multiple generations. What started as a wholesale business — selling in retailers such as Shopbop, Net-a-porter, Mytheresa ant Revolve — has turned into a complete omnichannel lifestyle empire, one that includes direct-to-consumer, freestanding stores, a staff of about 90 people and a sizable social media following (currently 781,000 on Instagram).
“I always say that I had a story before I had a brand or even a product,” explained Hessel Cohen, who worked as a fashion editor at Cosmopolitan magazine earlier in her career. “There was this vision in my mind of how to tell this story through images and all these aesthetic things. And then from that I designed the bridesmaid dresses for my wedding. And from that, these most beautiful, ethereal bridesmaid dresses that I then wore to weddings and events after that. [The brand] was always something that just evolved from there. It was the need to create a piece that was perfect for this one bigger vision, which then obviously evolved as my life evolved, as the need evolved.”
It’s fitting then that WWD would honor Hessel Cohen’s LoveShackFancy brand with the Best-Performing Fashion Company, Small Cap award. Even during the pandemic, when retailer competitors were shuttering or struggling to survive, LoveShackFancy was thriving, opening new stores and launching new categories.
Hessel Cohen would not comment on revenues, except to say that the business is privately funded and has not considered outside financial partners. In September, during New York Fashion Week, when LoveShackFancy held its first formal fashion presentation, a representative from the brand said that not only has e-commerce engagement been up in the last year, but also that annual sales on fashion platform Revolve, one of LoveShackFancy’s largest wholesale partners, were up more than 100 percent, year-over-year — even during lockdown.
“What happened during COVID-19 is that people really connected to us as [they would] a friend,” Hessel Cohen said. “They were able to dream. And it’s definitely an aspirational sort of world that we create, whether it’s through our storytelling, through our emails, through our Instagram, our stores.
“In the last year, [the stores] I think it’s just been a really amazing place to connect,” she continued. “There’s definitely a thing about connectivity after COVID-19, or after a year and a half and this pandemic and everyone living so much on their phones. And I think it’s a really amazing opportunity to have everyone come, to have our stores as this place where you can experience the collection. Where you can see everything, where you can have this sensory experience.”
LoveShackFancy has 10 brick-and-mortar stores. Most recently, the brand added a location in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami to its retail fleet. Charleston, S.C., is next, followed by stores in Nashville, Tenn., Greenwich, Conn., Houston and a pop-up in Aspen, Colo. Hessel Cohen also hinted at a store opening “across the pond,” but wouldn’t say where or when.
“I always say that a store is only successful when you can walk in each week and you can discover something new,” Hessel Cohen said. “Even if you’re walking in for inspiration the first few times and then you finally feel like you can buy something, or whatever it is. You always want to have a sense of self-discovery. Otherwise, why not just buy it online?”
Hence, the constant store updates and multiple shipments. Hessel Cohen said the brand receives new product every one to two weeks in addition to its 10 scheduled deliveries a year. LoveShackFancy also sells upcycled vintage products and third-party brands unique to each location and hosts trunk shows for local designers in stores each week.
“Each store has its own little twist,” she said. “We have just so much that’s constantly evolving and that is store-specific for each one of the locations. This [model] was definitely something that was missing with all the department stores and just in general, just what was going on with these more cookie-cutter modern [stores]. It was the trend to have those types of stores. But for me, I love to feel like an experience. Each store is just an extension of what my dream home in that specific location might be, for a girl and a woman. So there will always be something that is specific to each store.”
At the start of the pandemic, LoveShackFancy also teamed with Target for a line of size-inclusive and affordably-priced LoveShackFancy dresses, from which Hessel Cohen said she learned a lot.
“We weren’t able to do any events; we weren’t able to do any marketing,” she explained. “We actually weren’t able to talk about it ourselves at all, from a social media or anything perspective. For me that was a little bit upsetting and frustrating, just because we do have such a strong connection with our fans and our customers and all of our audience through social media. That’s how we love to connect: through our stores and through our social presence. Not being able to come out with that and celebrate and sort of announce the launch properly was a bit stressful.
“So we were launching the Target collaboration and I thought, ‘No one is going to buy this,’” Hessel Cohen continued. “All of a sudden my phone was going crazy at like 3 in the morning. The collection launched at 3 in the morning. [My phone] was just going off the hook. And [everyone] was like, ‘[The collection] sold out.’ ‘What can you do [next]?’ That was just a testament to show our really loyal customers and this much bigger, larger demand [for the brand] across America.”
The designer added that size inclusivity is “definitely something that we have many conversations about.” (The LoveShackFancy heritage collection goes up to size 12.)
“But obviously, just not having as many resources, it takes a whole other production team and tech team,” Hessel Cohen said. “So we have had conversations about partnering with certain people. It’s definitely something that we’re aware of and we’re definitely working on.”
LoveShackFancy will also continue to expand with new categories and collaborations, a combination of big and small partners, Hessel Cohen said, in the year ahead.
“I’m a storyteller at heart and that’s what I do best,” Hessel Cohen said. “And I have a million ideas and I love beautiful things. So everything has evolved organically from that. Athletic wear, [for example]. At the beginning of COVID-19 I needed to be inspired to work out and black leggings weren’t going to do it. And I didn’t really like anything in the market. So that’s how the first athleticwear started. We’ve done several collaborations [in activewear]. But we’re doing our own athletic wear moving forward.
“There’s never a dull moment,” she added. “Everyone is just excited to come out again and to be out of their sweats and to dress up, whether it’s in the day or the night and to just be together and to feel good and to celebrate life. That’s definitely what we’re about and we’ve always been about that. And I think it’s that kind of authenticity that kind of keeps us going. We’re all in this together and having fun. We have an amazing team. So, we’re really lucky.”