By Tomboy KC | Photography by Alyssa Greenberg
When surveying the landscape of our closet, the one thing we always notice is the lack of tops. For the longest time, we just thought it was because we weren’t buying them, but it turns out maybe it wasn’t our fault after all. Throughout her career, clothing designer Kara Mendelsohn saw a hole in the women’s market when it came to affordable wearable tops. Apparently we weren’t the only ones desperate for something to throw on with a pair of jeans.
Seizing the opportunity, she jumped headfirst into starting her own clothing line, Cooper & Ella, focused on just that – easy tops that transition perfectly between day and night. Our current of-the-moment favorite is a tuxedo blouse we’ve had on repeat for the last few weeks.
TKC: How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
KM: I graduated with a dual degree in Art History and Psychology and spent my senior year interning at art galleries in Soho. I fell in love with the city and the energy surrounding the fashion industry and made the move the minute I graduated. At the time, the big ‘players’ were Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. I landed a sales assistant job with CK Women’s Collection and never looked back!
TKC: What inspired you to start Cooper & Ella?
KM: I knew there was a white space in the contemporary market for ‘date tops.’ Over the last 10 years of my career, during market appointments with my buyers, that’s what they continuously were asking and pushing for – cute, wearable tops. The rise of denim left a huge opportunity for blouses and no one had a singular focus on this. I knew there was an opening in a very crowded market for elevated, chic tops at an accessible price point.
TKC: What is the significance of the name of the line? Did you ever consider naming it anything else?
KM: The line is named after my children; my son, Cooper (8) and my daughter, Ella (10.) This was the first (and only) name I came up with. My family is my life and my children inspire me every day.
TKC: Tell us a little bit about the inspiration for Cooper & Ella Spring 2015?
KM: It’s all about COLOR. We have long cold winters in NY and this collection gave me something to look forward to! I absolutely love the bold floral prints. They’re strong, but not overpowering – very flattering and easy to wear.
TKC: We know this is a bit like asking you to pick a favorite child, but do you have a favorite piece this season?
KM: Ha! Well, my standard answer to my children is, “I love you both with all my heart! You are different, but my love is equal and constant!” No favorite. I have every style in my closet and I wear them every day. (I will say that the Makayla has been in heavy rotation lately!)
TKC: When you design, what are you inspired by? Are there any themes or images that you are drawn to in particular?
KM: Real women. I am inspired by my sisters, my friends, my colleagues — college grads, executives at the top of their careers, working moms, at-home moms — women who are challenging themselves each and every day. They lead very busy lives and want to look good while doing it. I want to make clothes for them. I want to make getting dressed the easiest moment of their day. I want to make them look and feel confident.
TKC: How would you describe your personal style?
KM: Classic with a twist. I love clean lines and easy shapes, but with unique, subtle details.
TKC: Is there a particular designer or look that you tend to favor?
KM: I love Thakoon. His designs are so chic, but feminine and wearable. I worked with him when he first launched his beautiful line and I still wear his pieces all the time.
TKC: What’s your first fashion memory?
KM: Seeing Kate Moss on the runway at Calvin Klein. It was my first ‘real’ job out of school and she had just started her career. Working in womens collection, I attended all of the runway shows (so exciting!)
TKC: If you could only buy one item this Spring, what would it be?
KM: My black Layla tassel dress. You can dress it up or down with a quick shoe change and be ready for anything.
TKC: What is one item that is safe to buy on a budget?
KM: An easy white tank from Old Navy ($9!?).
TKC: One worth splurging on?
KM: Leopard flats.
TKC: If you had a motto, what would it be and why?
KM: “I did not dream about success, I worked for it.” –Estee Lauder. I try to apply this to every aspect of my life; work, raising children, my marriage… I work hard to be successful in ALL aspects of my life.
TKC: Name one beauty product you couldn’t live without.
KM: Bobbi Brown’s Shimmer Brick Bronzer.
TKC: Coffee or tea?
TKC: Instagram or Twitter?
TKC: Mascara or lipstick?
TKC: If you could collaborate with one artist or designer, who would it be?
KM: Phoebe Philo. A girl can dream…
TKC: What advice would you give to 22 year old Kara?
KM: Believe in yourself. You are smarter than you think!
I am inspired by my sisters, my friends, my colleagues — college grads, executives at the top of their careers, working moms, at-home moms — women who are challenging themselves each and every day.