Marina Cortbawi created Brooklyn-based atelier Merlette in 2016, and has steadily built the fashion brand into a successful business by focusing on thoughtfully-designed, quality garments that her customers seek out as lifetime investments.
Merlette is now in its sixth year. The brand has been sold by retailers such as Nordstrom, Matches, Saks, and Saks. In 2021, direct-to-consumer sales increased 40%.
Merlette’s RHODE gown is a favorite of customers.
While the prices may be higher than at fast-fashion stores across the country, the quality is better than quantity. There are fewer options and they cost less than luxury brands, which often rely heavily on name recognition.
Cortbawi is committed responsible production and practice – the garments are ethically manufactured in India by skilled artisans who are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions. Only natural fibers are used, including pima cotton that is made in mills that have OEKOTEX certifications.
Merlette’s No. 12 Collection 12 also includes Art Deco-inspired prints such as this dark floral.
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The brand launched Merlette Collection No. 12 for Pre-Fall 2022. Cortbawi claims that this collection is an homage at Art Deco. Original prints and motifs are featured in these pieces. Drop waists and eyelets are harmoniously integrated into the signature pieces, such as the Soliman dress.
The Merlette Majorelle print blouse has a timeless style and features face-framing hand stitching.
Knitwear featuring crochet detailing and feminine pointelle are another highlight. They come in poppy, Byzantine, and Deco colors. You can also choose from a variety of calming neutrals if you prefer a muted color palette.
There are many thoughtfully designed and carefully placed details like embroidery, pin tucking, and hand-smocking.
Cortbawi was available to answer my questions about her business, her designs and her plans for 2022.
What inspired you to create this collection?
“The art deco period has so much detail. We found inspiration in architecture and jewelry, as well as vintage Swedish flower market posters. All of the garments in the collection have an ornamental aspect to them, from the crochet knits and pointelles that feature the fan flower motif to the eyelets and the knits used to embroider the fabrics, as well as the knit techniques and constructions. The lace trims, smocking details and dresses with subtle waves accentuating the waist feature diamond shapes. The colors are very typical of the era, with a mix of bright and dark reds as well as a variety of smocking details and lace trims. Our RHODE gown in our deco floral printed most perfectly captures all the elements of the inspiration.
Merlette Wallis’ black deco print dress is inspired by Art Deco jewelry designs.
How did the pandemic affect your design process?
“We are now designing 2-3 months earlier due to the pandemic. This allows us more time to do the important part of patternmaking and research, which happens in our Brooklyn studio. This alone has allowed us to dig deeper into research and develop new categories. As our lifestyles change, so are the styles. Instead of having the perfect house dress (sales for our Paradis gown grew tremendously during the pandemic, and it remains a bestseller today), we are focusing more on styles that can be worn at events and parties.
The Merlette Marle blouse features French knots and hand smocking.
Who are you designing for?
“Our customer is worldwide, Merlette’s appeal lies in its suitability for Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles. These cities are our main markets. Our customers tend to buy designer clothes and care about fabrics and hand feel. They also prefer natural fibers. They want to find value that is not only for one occasion but something they can wear for many years. It is also very popular among a broad age range. I often use the Merlette example to show how my team and friends wear it, as well as our mothers. We are seeing a younger customer now that we have increased our product ranges and some of our most popular items at our open price points.
What are your plans for the remainder of the year?
“We have been fortunate to work with an incredible group of creative talents on our campaigns this past year. I look forward the continuing that collaboration. It has been a pleasure to explore and evolve Merlette. I am also looking forward to traveling internationally again and spending some time with my family in Spain this Summer.
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Mean Magazine and The mean podcast for GenX females. Forbes is where I discuss the latest luxury in fashion, design, and lifestyle. I have written for Refinery 29, 7×7 and Wired.