Melissa McCarthy said that over the course of her life, she’s been “every size on the planet. I have experience dressing me as a 6, a 12 and more. And when you go above a size 12, you don’t lose your love of fashion.”
So McCarthy is setting out to do something about it. She’s wanted to be a fashion designer since grade school and is finally getting her chance. The Emmy award-winning actress and comedian has teamed up with Gerard Guez’s Sunrise Brands to create a fashion line, including accessories and beauty products for women.
This story first appeared in the November 25, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The collection, which is not yet named, will launch with casual sportswear for fall 2015 at department and specialty stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. There are plans for pop-ups and flagships as well as e-commerce.
A more upscale offering, as well as accessories and beauty products, is expected to be added in 2016 and 2017. The accessories and beauty lines — in addition to apparel other than sportswear — will be licensed to other manufacturers under the guidance of Sunrise and McCarthy’s Los Angeles-based company, M&M Clothing Co.
“I always said, ‘Why can’t I find great stuff?’ And Sunrise was up for the challenge,” she said.
While McCarthy is the latest to join the celebrity-as-designer flood, she actually initially trained as a designer before she became a performer. “It’s something I’ve done since grade school,” McCarthy told WWD on a break from filming “Mike & Molly” in L.A. on Monday afternoon. “I’d lay on the floor, look through Vogue and cut out patterns. It was everything I ever wanted to do.”
When the Illinois farm girl moved to New York City to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology, she was befriended by footwear designer Brian Atwood. He changed her career path. “He made me do stand-up, not finish college at FIT,” she said.
Launching her own label brings her “back to how I thought I’d make my living.”
To McCarthy, fashion always remained a dream.
“I’d been looking for two, three, maybe four years for manufacturers to help us do this line,” she said. “But after we met with Sunrise, we felt they were committed to changing the plus-size game.”
McCarthy will design each collection assisted by her creative director, Judy Swartz; fit specialist, Daniela Kurrle, and product coordinator, Alexandria Longo.
The launch will be a reinterpretation of Sunrise’s existing Seven7 line and will center around casual sportswear at moderate price points, including knit tops retailing for $39 to $79, sweaters for $79 to $99 and bottoms for $59 to $118. The line is expected to offer “classic, high-end detailing, better fits and technology-driven denim fit solutions.”
The casual sportswear will be followed one year later by a more contemporary collection, at a higher price point, with a career bent, according to McCarthy’s team.
She characterized the designs that she’s been working on as “more modern” than what’s available in the market today for larger-size women. “Sunrise isn’t afraid to shake it up and bring plus-size up to fashion.”
But she isn’t just doing plus sizes. “I’m doing all sizes. It’s a strange thing to stop at a certain size. Women don’t, so why should clothes?”
The name of the brand will include her name in some form, “but we haven’t narrowed it down yet.”
Like the name, the launch retail partner hasn’t been decided either. McCarthy’s team said several retailers are jockeying to acquire the rights to carry the collection, but the actress has not decided which to partner with. She is adamant that the line be “accessible to everybody,” so offering e-commerce is a given for those who don’t choose to shop in a traditional store or aren’t close enough to a city. “It’s the way of the world today,” she said.
McCarthy said growing up, she wasn’t much of a shopper — “I lived on a farm in Illinois and we didn’t have a lot of money. But I lived vicariously through magazines. I was obsessed with Jean Paul Gaultier. I still have the scrapbooks and I’ve kept all my designs and sketches. I loved the playfulness of fashion. I think maybe that’s why I became an actress. You put on one outfit and feel one way, and another one will make you feel another way. Clothes are a wonderful tool.”
Once the collection launches, she expects to continue to work closely on it. “I really don’t step away from things,” she said with a laugh. The agreement with Sunrise is a multiyear deal that Guez said will “be the ‘game-changer’ transforming the retail landscape for all sizes, and this will be one of the strongest brand opportunities I’ve encountered. Melissa’s uniquely appealing presence and talent will drive attention to a vastly underserved market. Sunrise Brands shares Melissa’s innovative direction and enthusiasm. We are impressed by her eye for design and her discipline.”
Sunrise’s portfolio includes American Rag, Diane Gilman, People’s Liberation, Seven7 Jeans and Superdry.
McCarthy had her big breakthrough playing the role of Sookie on the television show “Gilmore Girls” for seven years, but really rose to prominence after landing the lead in the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” in 2010, a role for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She has also gained fame for her work in motion pictures such as “Bridesmaids” in 2011, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. This year she starred in “St. Vincent,” and the action-comedy movie, “Spy,” is scheduled to be released in the spring. She has also committed to playing Tinker Bell in an upcoming film that she will also produce. She and her husband, Ben Falcone, founded the production company On the Day.
For now, though, she’s focused on fashion. The actress said she is a “very detail-oriented person and I told them I’d be at every fitting and on my hands and knees checking the hems. Now they’re probably thinking, ‘Why doesn’t she go away?’ But I can only do this if I really believe in it and want to wear it.”