Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MM. LaFleur: Showroom Experience and Brand Impressions

Several months ago, I visited a MM. LaFleur showroom. I'd been intrigued by their marketing for ages (and no wonder, as I'm their target customer), despite my general skepticism about startup brands offering a subscription box-type service as a way to shop. During a showroom visit, they assign a stylist/salesperson to help you out one-on-one. I stayed there for an hour, and tried on several styles: At least seven dresses, two pants, two skirts, five tops, and two "jardigans".

First, before I get to photos and reviews of the two items I bought, I have some general thoughts about MM. LaFleur as a brand. Ethical production practices are not a focus, but some of their items (including the Toi dress) are made in New York. My Didion top was made in Vietnam. Pricing is, by almost any imaginable standard, extremely expensive, even with my robust and flexible budget as a private-sector attorney. Most dresses are well over $200 and tops are well over $100.

My biggest issue with MM. LaFleur, especially at the price point, is their predilection for unlined dresses. Only two of seven dress designs I tried were lined (the Toi, which is always lined, and a printed Etsuko, though solid colors are unlined). I get unusually grouchy about unlined dresses, although I have a few that look just fine. I feel strongly that linings serve a useful purpose, helping almost any dress (particularly more fitted sheathes, like MM. LaFleur commonly offers) lie more smoothly over the body. The lack of lining, combined with the fitted designs, generally resulted in those dresses showing the "lumps and bumps" in my figure in an unflattering way. Admittedly, my currently ~37.5''-27''-37'' figure is just too busty for most of their designs regardless. I had obvious fit issues with my closest size in every dress I tried outside of the Toi, Etsuko, and super-flowy Georgia, enough that I'd never consider spending more on a tailor to fix it (think bra lines showing through unlined fabric and every single soft, squishy spot of my back getting emphasized), and the lack of lining really emphasized that.

Another issue is the lack of petite sizing. I may be off base here, because I'm often terrible at choosing between regular and petite sizes for myself, and can't always figure out the line between "intentionally oversized chic" and "this doesn't fit". I generally feel that, when one looks through MM. LaFleur Instagram tags or even some posts on their blog, many looks seem to not be the best fit on shorter women. (I.e. this jacket-dress hybrid on an employee, the first skirt in this post, many looks here, or a few of the customer photos here.) I can't always pinpoint why I feel this, as most of the skirts and dresses look about knee-length, covering part (but not all) of the kneecap, in most of these photos, which happens to be the exact length I usually wear. I suppose I just wonder if, given MM. LaFleur's lofty price point, shorter women have better options that would be a better value.

I also ordered a third item, the Saint Ambroeus Jardigan (a cropped style that suits petite-height people far better than the longer Woolf Jardigan). I returned it because a dry clean-only sweater just isn't for me. While it's supposed to function like a blazer, in which case the dry clean-only restriction might be acceptable, I thought it looked too obviously cardigan-like to fill the jacket/blazer niche in my work wardrobe. Sure, the fabric is more structured than any other cardigan I've seen, but that isn't enough to make it pass for a blazer!

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Please follow the link below for photos and reviews of the two items I bought.

Dress: MM. LaFleur Toi, size 8, deep plum
Shoes: Cole Haan tortoiseshell wedges (similar in limited sizes, similar with bow)

Due to some holiday-related weight gain, I'm a bit bigger around the chest now than when I first bought this. Currently, I'm right on the edge of this dress not fitting correctly in the chest. When I bought this, it wasn't such a close call, and I thought it fit well. The height of the neckline and how fitted it is through the chest does combine to emphasize my bust more than I usually like, though it's work-appropriate because of how covered-up it is. It's interesting that this dress looks great on people who are significantly less busty than me while still accommodating my chest without requiring me to size up too dramatically. Although this is not an especially "bust-friendly" design, it manages to fit me far better than many of MM. LaFleur's other dresses. There's a little extra room at the waist (but not much), and any extra room at the hips is fine because of the flowy a-line skirt.

The fabric is a 96% wool, 4% elastane that I haven't had any problems with so far. This version of the dress is dry-clean only, which isn't surprising for something made with suiting-type fabric, though the most recent edition of this dress has the same fabric composition, but is machine-washable.

At $265, this was a major step up in price for me. Most of my other work-appropriate dresses cost around ~$80, whether bought used or new. That might be why I'm sounding so ambivalent and critical of MM. LaFleur. My brain can't objectively analyze something that was such a dramatic step up in price for me. Were I not sucked in by their marketing targeting my exact demographic and the slightly irrational sense that I'd feel bad about "wasting my stylist's time" if I didn't buy anything, I may not have made theses purchasing decisions.

Top: MM. LaFleur Didion, size M, "ink wash" print
Bottoms (left): Grana Silk Ankle Pants, size M short, black
Bottoms (right): J.Crew Factory Wool Blend suiting skirt, size 4 regular, black
Shoes: Cole Haan tortoiseshell wedges (similar in limited sizes, similar with bow)

That I liked this top so much might come as a surprise, as this sort of roomy, blousy shape that hangs straight down from the chest isn't something that generally suits bustier women (as this blogger commented). Such designs runs the risk of having a "boob tent" effect, for lack of a better, more graceful phrasing. Even so, I loved this top, both when worn untucked and tucked in to a pencil skirt. Work tops are a tough genre for me, as most designs have issues with the way they fit over my chest and shoulders, and many sleeveless ones have oversized arm holes that show some of my bra from the side. This design doesn't have those problems.

The Didion is lined, and both layers of fabric are polyester, which might make the $145 price shocking. The polyester certainly feels more pleasant (smoother, more silk-like) to the touch than anything at Loft or Ann Taylor, but it seems odd to pay so much for poly. I do like that this is easy to care for, as I've machine-washed and line-dried it with no problem.

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