Work suits are mandatory in the power corridors of Washington, D.C. Rochelle Behrens, a K Street lobbyist who conducts communications strategy for financial-services and scientific institutions, realized that she and her colleagues often wore their work clothes all day at the office without having time to change before they hit the social circuit. Uninspired by the boxy work suits and disheveled dress shirts from many designers, she was also put off by the cost and “maturity” of the likes of St. John Knits.

“In shopping for my own wardrobe, I perceived this void,” says Behrens. “I wanted suiting that had utility but that was still pretty.”

Soon she began sketching her ideal work-wear that was both functional and flattering. She focused on redesigning blouses, many of which had the unfortunate design flaw of a gap between buttons below the collar that, when left open, can unintentionally reveal a woman’s cleavage.

“Every woman knows what I’m talking about,” says Behrens. “This is not necessarily about covering up. This is about controlling how you’re perceived and putting your best appearance forward. If your shirt is hanging open, it’s embarrassing and not intentional.”

Behrens calls it the gape, and has set about eliminating it in her shirts. After launching her design in July 2008, with a patent pending in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, she quickly gained attention in Washington from local newspapers and media outlets.

This past December, The Today Show called. Behrens was whisked to its New York studio, where she presented the shirt live to Meredith Vieira as part of a broadcast highlighting female entrepreneurs. Donny Deutsch W’79, the former host of CNBC’s The Big Idea [“Why Not Him,” May|June 2008], called the shirt ‘recession-proof,’ thus giving Behrens one of the most resonant compliments she has ever received. The next day, she did a radio interview with Today Show financial editor and Oprah Radio host Jean Chatzky C’86, taking calls from women throughout the country asking how to launch their own businesses.

These days Behrens is in the process of transitioning from her lobbying job to developing her brand full-time—meeting with clothing boutiques in downtown Manhattan and Washington, showing her shirt and suit lines (more can be seen at www.rochellebehrens.com). She would love to show in larger retailers like Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman someday, though she believes that as one of the few clothing designers based in the nation’s capital, she will have access to an untapped market of young professional women eager to look their best at all hours.

“I wanted to make dressing for the office fun, because you spend so much of your time there,” says Behrens. While many women “loathe” shopping for work clothes, there’s no getting around it, she points out. Besides: “Shouldn’t you put as much effort into your work clothes as you would for a Friday night date?”



 

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Intelligent Designs By Aaron Short

 

 


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