When you have a mother or grandmother who’s got style to spare, doesn’t logic go that you’ll also develop some mean fashion skills, probably in the womb? I’ve always wished my family had an extra style icon or two in the mix, but that was never a problem for Chris and Meggie Kempner, who grew up as grandchildren of the sartorially venerated Nan Kempner (she had a Met exhibit in her honor!). In honor of their debut collection, presented in New York City last night, we talked family history.
Glamour: What are some of your earliest memories of getting dressed? Do you have specific fashion memories of your grandmother?
Meggie Kempner: I remember being obsessed with fashion but too young to fit into my grandmother’s and mother’s clothing. I was constantly in their closets, trying everything on. I can remember my grandmother wearing a pair of Gucci by Tom Ford beaded and feathered jeans while we were vacationing in the Bahamas. She wore them with a white button-down tied up by her belly button, and from that minute on, I knew I didn’t have a typical grandmother.
Glamour: The best style lesson you learned from her?
MK: She always used to say when trying something on, “You should see the way it looks when you sit down and how it looks from the back. The back is just as important as the front!”
Glamour: What was the push to start Kempner? Did you feel like there was a void in the market?
Chris Kempner: We came up with the concept together in the winter of 2012, and after a ton of research, we decided we could fill a need in the contemporary space with a collection that was an homage to our grandmother, whom we loved very much. When Meggie and I realized we could combine our backgrounds in fashion and investing while doing something she would’ve been very proud of, it was off to the races.
Glamour: Who do you want your customer to be?
MK: The Kempner girl is 25 to 35 years old, living and working in a city. She always looks polished and put-together and wants to be noticed for her sense of style and her subtle, sexy confidence.
Glamour: Which of today’s trends would get the Nan Kempner stamp of approval?
MK: She would’ve definitely loved crop tops. She loved showing some skin, even later in her life when it was probably considered a little inappropriate to do so. We have some fun ones in our collection and consider them a nod to her daring way of dressing.
CK: I think, if anything, she might lament the general blurring of the distinction between casual and formal wear. On a Saturday afternoon, no one dressed “for comfort” more stylishly than her, but I don’t think she would be thrilled to find jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts at a dinner table. Sorry, Grand Nan!
Glamour: What are your personal fashion mantras?
CK: Dress for the occasion and dress for how it makes you feel. Confidence is contagious, and others can’t help but be seduced by that intangible vibe you give off when you feel your best.
MK: Looking “artificially relaxed” was also something I learned from my grandmother. No matter how long you spend getting ready or how high your shoes are, you have to give off a vibe that it was effortless and you’re totally comfortable, even though it might not be the case. Once, my grandmother went on vacation to the Dominican Republic with Oscar de la Renta and fell and broke her pelvis. Being Nan, she wasn’t going to let it ruin her vacation or keep her from looking her best. Oscar came by to visit after she got back from the hospital and she was wearing the most gorgeous pajama set and decked out with jewelry. It might sound extreme to some, but the takeaway has stuck with me ever since.
Kempner’s spring 2015 presentation