Fashion-forward graduate

Matt Kelly

Everyone has at least one embarrassing item in his or her closet. It’s that garment you just can’t bring yourself to throw away but wouldn’t be caught dead wearing out in public. Monica Posse’s closet spans three rooms in her Chestnut Hill home. Still, the designer is only admitting to one fashion faux pas in her wardrobe – her Dick Tracy pajama top. Luckily, her taste in detectives is no reflection of her fashion sense. Dressed to perfection in a brown knit sweater that complements her matching suede boots and shoulder-length hair, Posse sits on an oversized white couch in front of the window of her Main Line store, Plush. Her knee-length skirt, embroidered with flowers near the hemline, was once a dress, but she changed that. Posse likes changing things around — just last month she changed the location of her hip women’s boutique from Lancaster Avenue to 112 North Wayne Street. The move allowed for more space and, incidentally, more clothes.

The clothes in the store prove the owner is up on the trends. New York Sleek and European Classics fill her newly renovated shop. But it’s not just an eye for fashion that’s helping the designer run a successful business. A graduate of the University’s Business School, Posse credits her C&F courses with helping her stay ahead in business in the fashion world. She calls the program a “springboard for success.” “I think everyone should minor in business, even if you’re artistic,” she said.

Posse emphasizes the importance of business skills in the fashion industry that can be hard on young talent. “They tend to be churn and burn,” she says of the industry. “[Now] people want a fashion designer with business skills. You aren’t sitting there drawing pretty pictures all day. During the day, you handle a lot of business stuff.”

Still, the clothes are a major focus. Recycled cashmere sweaters, Asian embroidered stretch knits, long fringe skirts for “cha-cha-chaing the night away” and beaded gowns hang from the racks. Suede jackets, Betsy Johnson pieces and even yoga wear are part of the fall collection. “A lot of my jewelry is from Europe,” Posse said. “It’s different. No one else has it.”

Posse likes originality. She imports items from Italy, Greece, Paris and even picks up some items in nerby Philadelphia shops. There’s also a little sister act going on. Her sister designs a set of trinket boxes topped with flowers, perfect for holding the jewelry that is displayed throughout the store.

Being artistic runs in the family. Posse’s dad was a cartoonist, while her box-crafting sister and her brother ( Class of ’44) design furniture. Another sister is a photographer. Posse knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in fashion. In high school, she’d mix and match her clothes, once buying an old chandelier and gluing the crystals onto a black jacket.

Her passion got her to the Bloomingdale’s Teen Board, a group of teenagers who meet with store managers once a month to discuss fashion trends, to comment on merchandise and to do informal modeling throughout the department store. Later, Posse went on to receive a degree in fashion design at Drexel.

There she learned everything about fashion, from sketching and measuring to dressing models. “Drexel University has a great fashion program, based in technical, hands-on learning,” she said. Of course, there was one requirement for getting in. You needed to know how to sew. Posse didn’t.

Yet, she wasn’t about to let this obstacle stand in the way of her designer dreams. Posse took out an ad in a local paper looking for a tutor. A Brazilian woman named Fatima answered the ad and began instructing her on how to use the needle and thread.

After graduating, Posse took a job as an assistant production manager for the Victoria’s Secret catalog and a few years later became a designer for the skate and snowboard company, Anti-Work Wear. Following that stint, she worked for Urban Outfitters designing for private labels. It was here she realized that if she ever wanted to open her own store, she needed to have a background in business. So she enrolled at Villanova.

Today, Posse uses her marketing, advertising and accounting skill when dealing with vendors and overseas orders. Open seven days a week during the holiday season, she also tries to get to New York once a month to keep up with the latest styles.

It is something that a customer like Brooklyn native Elana Kripke loves about the store. “I’m thrilled that something so urban has moved into such a non-urban kind of place,” she said.

And what are these urban trends? Posse says that the buzz for spring is fun floral prints and flirty skirts. Stripes and suede are strong for fall.

Yet she notes the industry has gotten to a point where one thing is no longer “in.” “Now it’s kind of everything is ‘in,’ she said. Predicting trends starts six months in advance, which is why Posse tends to buy what she likes to wear.

She even passes on some trends completly. “The whole peasant top thing was a nightmare,” she said. While the shirts stacked the shelves of other stores, Posse went for more unique pieces.

One would never guess that the petite designer rock-climbs, plays roller hockey and hikes two miles every morning. She is also an avid snowboarder, wake boarder and fisher.

Activities aside, she is plenty busy trying to get settled into her new store. “It’s really fun,” she said of the boutique. “It’s bright. It has really good fung shui.”

Prices in the store range from $30 to $300 sizes from 2 to 12, and looks from formal to informal. In the future, she’d like to expand the store to incorporate clothing for pre-teens, children and men. For now, though, her focus is on carrying clothes that make women feel good. For Posse, that’s what fashion is really about – making people feel good.

“Don’t you just feel good, when you have a good outfit on?” she asks. “If you don’t treat yourself to nice things, you don’t think you’re worth it.”

In reality, beauty is only skin deep. And who’s going to say finding a great $9.99 bargain at a T.J. Max doesn’t make you feel just as great while wearing designer duds? Still, if you’re looking for a stylish outfit and some sexy jewelry to provide extra umph to an ordinary day, then check out Plush.

There are tons of unique clothes hanging in the Main Line store, none of which resemble Dick Tracy tops.