When sophie theallet moved to New York City in 1998 from Paris, she was determined to create her own label, one that would emphasize craftsmanship in the way that she had been taught by Azzedine Alaia, whom she assisted for 10 years. "Azzedine taught me how to cut clothes and never to waste fabric," says Théallet, 45, sitting in the third-floor Brooklyn Heights apartment cum studio where she works with one seamstress and her husband Steve Francoeur, a former model, who oversees production and sales. Their 3-year-old son Léon provides entertainment when stress levels get intense during collection time.
Before venturing out on her own, Théallet bounced around between freelance jobs for several different Seventh Avenue labels. She started a resort-inspired line called Motu Tané in 2005 with backing from the makeup artist François Nars and finally seized the opportunity to launch her own label in March 2007. Her first collection showcased her penchant for dressmaking details like pin tucks and draping. For her spring 2009 show, Théallet was inspired by femininity and color and chose to present her designs on African-American models. Fashion editors and buyers took note, and so did First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore a Théallet cotton shirtwaist dress to the unveiling of a bust of Sojourner Truth at Emancipation Hall in Washington in April. "It was such a great honor," says Théallet, who now sells her clothes to 10 stores in the U.S., Britain, Spain and the Middle East. "She is so inspiring and intelligent. She is elegant even when she's walking her dog in the rain, because she has her own taste and her own life."