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2012 September 6

Worldwide (Marissa) Webb

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(NEW YORK)  When J. Crew’s former head womenswear designer, Marissa Webb, decamped last year for her own studio on 11th Street, whispers of Prepdom part deux hovered overhead. Au contraire! The boyish sophisticate’s first-ever eponymous collection, wholesaling from $125 for a tee to $1,500 for dresses, is less Rockefeller Center, more rock ‘n’ roll. Next up? Global domination, of course.
BY MARIA DENARDO

What was your childhood like?
I was born in Korea and adopted at the age of four with my three siblings. My mother is a piano teacher, and my father is a social worker. We bounced around a lot growing up, starting in Delaware and ending up in New Jersey during my senior year in high school.

If you were nominated in the high school yearbook, it would read ‘Most…’?
Athletic! I was a big tomboy. I played softball, soccer, and basketball, and I did a lot of running. I’m only 5’5”, but I’d beat up all the guys I grew up with who are all 6’6” linebackers now. I was a crazy daredevil!

What’s the most tomboyish thing about you? Are you still a little wild?
In different ways. I’m not afraid of challenges and taking risks. The first time I rode a skateboard, I jumped on it and flew down the steepest hill. I learned to drive after I bought my first car. It was a stick shift, and I tore it out of the lot with people screaming and cursing behind me! When I was little, I hung out with the guys and went dirt biking. I tried to get everyone to call me Mark, but it didn’t work.

So what charmed you about fashion?
I started at Rutgers University majoring in psychology, but I found out I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. I missed illustrating and being creative, so I transitioned to FIT. As a little girl, I’d draw fashion designs and ask my mom how she thought the looks would retail. I must have been annoying!

What was your first fashion job?
My first full-time gig was at Polo Jeans. They gave me a shot right out of school. One day, Ralph Lauren came to see the collection. I couldn’t afford much, so I was wearing the worst outfit—vintage menswear pants belted up really high with a black shell and flip flops. I remember him turning around and asking, ‘What is she wearing? Where did you get that? I love it!’ I was mortified, but excited that he would ask about this nobody who shouldn’t be speaking at all.

What was life like as a struggling designer?
I lived in Hoboken in a tiny little hole with one roommate. I ate Ramen noodles every day. Back then, you could buy four for 25 cents. I could afford one bag of M&Ms out of the vending machine. Now, of course, things have changed. I live a couple blocks from my showroom on 11th Street.

What was your greatest achievement at J. Crew?
Whenever anyone says, ‘Great job,’ I always think about what I could have done better. I loved my time there.

Are you preppy?
No.

How is running your own show different from the corporate life?
I’ve been in the industry for a long time, but owning your own business comes with a tremendous learning curve. I’ve had a crash course in law and finance. Nothing is beneath me! I want to keep the atmosphere like this for awhile, and I want everyone to feel a part of this new venture. That’s why I created the ‘we’ jar.

What’s that?
Everyone kept saying ‘you’ instead of ‘we,’ like ‘Marissa, what color do you want?’ I set up a ‘we’ jar. When anyone used the words ‘you,’ ‘I,’ or ‘me’ instead of ‘we,’ they had to put a dollar in the jar. Then we’d use the money to buy cupcakes or soda. We got close to $40!

Who’s your core team?
It includes my brother Josh, who builds the website and helps with social media. He’s also our resident photographer and handyman. Joanna Song does the design with me. My sister, Jessica, worked with us, too, but she’s sick right now. Then we have Murphy and Sasha, our amazing interns.

Who’s your investor?
Bedrock Manufacturing, and they’re amazing! Besides the fact that they’d even bother to take the time to look at me, they’re so hands-on. I can just pick up the phone and call them.

What demographic are you targeting?
I like to think of her as ageless. She’s independent, self assured, and not afraid of judgment. She takes risks. There’s always that contradiction and mixture of high and low, strong and soft. That’s the inspiration for Spring 2013, as well as being the foundation for the line.

What brands do you envision hanging on the racks next to you?
I’d be blown away if we were in the same league with Derek Lam, Proenza Schouler, Chloé, and Stella McCartney.

Are you designing accessories?
I didn’t plan on it, but I think it’s important to show everything we’ve got for the first season. We’re dabbling in accessories. There will be a clutch here, a couple bangles there. We’re also offering three styles of shoes this season—two heels and one flat in multiple colorways.

What’s your biggest challenge?
I don’t have as much time to sit and design. Everything is so fast, and there are so many things to get done, like adding a social media aspect to the business. I didn’t even know what Pinterest was until someone said I should be on it!

Do you have a nickname?
A lot of my friends and family call me Shark. But I’m a nice shark! Sharks have to constantly move to get oxygen, even when they’re sleeping. They never stop. That’s my nature, too. I have a hard time sitting and doing nothing, even for a pedicure.

What are your vices?
If anyone knew about the magnitude of my sweet tooth, they’d think I was so disgusting! I love canned Coca-Cola and ginger ale. And there’s a bag of Snickers on my desk at all times.

What is your secret skill?
Well, it’s definitely not cooking. I’ve burned pots trying to boil water. I’m a great dog walker, though! Three dogs, one bag. I’ve had my pug, Max, for 12 years. There’s also my Pomeranian, Taz or Tazzie Wu, and my mix, who’s always in trouble. She’s naughty!

How do you relax? TV?
Well, I don’t watch it. I don’t even know how to turn it on! Lately, I’ve started asking my fiancé to put on a superhero movie. It’s good background noise while I’m sketching or doing work. I like their energy, and the heroes always come out winning!

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