Monica Byrne has big plans for her small space at 125 East 17th Street in Manhattan.
The 400-square-foot storefront is an atelier where Byrne meets with clients of her custom designs by appointment. Red-carpet stunners made from exclusive fabrics Byrne develops and outerwear is displayed on rolling racks. Byrne is launching fine jewelry inspired by vintage pieces that are collected on a small table.
“I want my clients to be involved with choosing the exclusive fabrics and understand why I use the five classic stitches of couture and its timeless techniques to create a garment for her that’s utterly unique and different,” Byrne said. “Every piece will have a history.
“I’m trying to keep everything very couture,” said Byrne, who literally lives above the store. “I’m trying to create a world where we [document] everybody who’s touched a piece. It’s important for women to feel really connected to the garments.”
She’s trying to streamline the process by making it more accessible and quicker. “[Clients] pop by for Champagne,” she said.
Byrne’s business model calls for two to three traveling trunk shows per month, where existing designs are the starting point for conversations about personalized versions. A recent trunk show was held at the home of Dallas socialite Amy Turner. “I run it like a couture show,” Byrne said. “My patternmaker and seamstress were there.”
Her nearly 20 years of experience includes working at Vera Wang in the late Aughts, followed by Jil Sander Navy, “for a minute,” and Carolina Herrera from 2015 to 2016, where she was a bridal designer.
When brides began contacting Byrne directly, she launched a small collection, then decided to go all-in, and start her own business.
The designer has a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that she shares with fabric techniques and fabric design firm Le Studio Anthost and embroidery and hand-beading specialist Combray Design. Byrne collaborates with both companies and also works with Ricamificio Levi, which creates lace for haute couture designers, and is based in Cairate, Italy. A long, beige dress with hand-appliquéd lace from the latter, has a plissé illusion tulle over-layer that offers just enough of a hint of the lace to be interesting, $7,900.
“I’m not trying to reinvent shapes. I’m more interested in quality and comfort. Connie Darrow said, ‘You remind me of European designers because it all starts with your fabrics,'” Byrne said, referring to the fashion executive who hired her when she was president of Vera Wang, and chief executive officer of Jil Sander.
Byrnes’ signature, a “very particular bias cut,” is featured on several gowns. A staple, a double wool crepe made to measure coat is $5,800, and a noir iridescent embroidered wool sheath gown with velvet obi bow, $6,500.
Byrne counts Olivia Palermo, Cristina Cuomo, Molly Sims and Krystal Joy Brown, who recently took over the role of Eliza in “Hamilton,” as clients. Palermo, who recently wore one of Byrne’s dresses to an awards dinner, “was such a great poster for us,” she said. “She’s the right demographic. We’re making a big push for the Oscars.”
The company will also push into the store next door, which will soon be soon vacant, Byrne plans to break through the wall and annex the space, which will provide room for her patternmaker and seamstress.
“The idea is to run a business that’s profitable,” she said. “I’d like to rely on my products selling. It’s a hustle. It’s a lot of work up front, but the return is better than wholesale.”