Marina Kortbawi founded Brooklyn-based Atelier Merlet in 2011.
Now in its sixth year, Merlette has grown without outside investors, and retailers Matches, Saks and Nordstrom now carry the brand. Direct-to-consumer sales grow 40 percent by 2021.
And while the prices are higher than what you’ll find at fast fashion chains across the country, we’re talking quality over quantity, slightly better, and often much less expensive than luxury brands that rely on name recognition.
Cortbawi is committed to responsible manufacturing and practices—the garments are made ethically in India by artisans in safe environments who are paid fair wages. She uses only natural fibers, including Supima cotton, made in mills that meet OEKO-TEX certifications.
This summer, the brand introduced the Merlette Collection 12 for pre-fall 2022, which Cortbawi says is an homage to Art Deco. Featuring original prints and provocative ideas of the era, design details include eyelets and drop waists harmoniously integrated into their signature pieces, the best-selling Soliman dress.
Knitwear with pleated details and a feminine point is another highlight, in poppy red, “Byzantine” blue and deco prints. But if you prefer a more muted palette, don’t worry, most styles are also available in calm neutrals.
You’ll find thoughtfully crafted and artfully placed touches like embroidery, pin-stitching and hand-stitching.
I reached out to Kortbawi to find out more about her business, her designs and her plans for the rest of 2022.
What was it about art deco that inspired you for this collection?
“The Art Deco period is rich in detail, and we found inspiration in architecture, jewelry and Swedish flower market posters. The collection’s prints, embroideries, knitting techniques and garment construction all have a decorative element—from the fan flower pattern in our dots and crochet sweaters, to the poppy inspired print and eyelet. Diamond shapes are seen in lace trims and smoking details, and there are dresses with small wave constructions that emphasize the waist. The color palette of that era is vast: poppy reds, dusty pinks to bright blues and burnt oranges. The RHODE dress in our deco floral print embodies all the elements of inspiration.
Has the pandemic affected your design process for this collection?
Since the pandemic, we’re designing at least 2-3 months earlier than we normally do, giving us more time for the most important part, research and patterning in our Brooklyn studio. I think this alone has improved our process and allowed us to go into research and development and explore new categories. As our lifestyles are also changing, from having the perfect home wear (our Paradis dress sales have grown significantly during the pandemic and remains a best seller today) we are focusing more on styles tailored for parties, events. And travel – back to dressing up.
Who is the client you are designing for?
“Our customers are global, Merlette’s appeal is relevant to Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney. Our core markets are in these cities and their customers are often buying designer clothes and are discerning about fabrics, hand feel and natural fibers. They are looking for value in different ways, not for one occasion, but something to keep and look after for many years, and something that can be worn in many ways. It is also popular among a wide age group, I always use the example that Merlette is worn by all my friends and groups as well as our mothers. Now that we’ve expanded our size ranges and have some popular items at our opening price points, we’re starting to see a younger customer as well.
Are there any plans you are excited about for the rest of the year?
“We’ve been working with an amazing team of creative talent on our campaigns this year, and I look forward to continuing that collaborative process. It was a lot of fun developing and exploring the new look of Merlette. I’m excited to be traveling internationally again and spending some welcome time with my family in Spain this summer.