[Editor’s note: Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to see a slideshow of Shoshanna Gruss’ picks from her Resort 2014 collection and from Elizabeth Arden!]
New York City is full of successful women who have perfected the art of wearing many hats. But few do it as gracefully—or make their hats look as chic—as Shoshanna Gruss (née, Lonstein). Gruss made a name for herself in the fashion industry when she launched her eponymous collection in 1998 when she was just 22. A women’s swimwear line followed in 2001, and—after her first child was born in 2005—Shoshanna Baby Girl launched with swimsuits for girls. And recently, Gruss announced some big news indicative of her growing success and stature in the fashion industry: she was named as Elizabeth Arden’s first-ever Style Director, a role which will have her curating content and forecasting trends for the iconic beauty brand.
A creative soul with a knack for business, the 38-year-old born-and-raised Upper East Sider is also an effervescent personality, the kind of woman who can walk in from a New York City snowstorm (like the one swirling in the air the morning of our interview) and be genuinely cheery to everyone around her. As demanding as it is to oversee a growing fashion company, Gruss also puts in plenty of time and energy towards supporting worthy institutions like the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering (of which she is the chairman of the Associates Committee) and The Blue Card, which provides financial assistance to needy Holocaust survivors (a cause she’s deeply connected to as the child of two Holocaust survivors).
But her favorite hat to wear?
“My number one job, first and foremost, is being a mom. I wouldn’t sacrifice one minute of that,” Gruss, whose daughter Sienna is 8 and twins Angelica and Colby are 1, gushes.
To hear her speak adoringly of her children and husband, Joshua Gruss—a former investment banker turned music publishing CEO, whom she first met as a teenager, when they both attended single-sex private schools in the city—it’s clear to see where she draws strength and motivation.
The Shoshanna brand recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. How did you mark the milestone?
One of the things we did was bring back our iconic cherry print which people have been asking us to do for a while… It was the first swimsuit I did [when] I launched swim in 2001. It was everywhere; it was on “Sex and the City,” it was on every celebrity… It’s really what put my swim collection on the map.
Tell us about some of the different factors that influence your designs.
I have no formal design background, but I really feel like I am the customer and not just in designing the fabrics, the prints, and the colors, but also designing the actual shapes. One of the greatest things that I bring to the table is an understanding of the female form. It’s something that is innate to me… I always wanted to be a designer that celebrated women. I’m fascinated with fashion and I love color, and I think the way you dress and present yourself is so important because it’s such an expression of who you are.
How has the Shoshanna brand evolved over the past 15 years?
The brand has evolved so much. It’s an extension of me. When I first started it had a more youthful feel, but now it’s evolved to include clothes for every walk of life—as a mom, as a businesswoman, as a friend, as a wife. When my daughter Sienna was born we launched Baby Girl swim, and now she is designing for that line. Sienna has always made her own swimsuits—she and I have very different…um…tastes in clothing and style.
How would you describe 8-year-old Sienna’s style?
She loves clothing and uses it to express herself too. She’s hip and cool and won’t wear pink—she’ll wear hot pink, maybe, with black—so she always designs her own suits because the ones I make are too girly for her. She came in [to the showroom] and designed a suit. For fun we put it online, and—I’m not just saying this—it became our number one seller!
Did you always see yourself in the fashion industry?
No, not really at all. I always say this, but I always looked at fashion like I was in a museum. It was beautiful and I wanted it but could never have it…When I was younger, my mom used to have bathing suits custom-made for me, and she always took such dear care of not making me feel bad about my body because when I was 13, I looked like, you know, a grownup. The Laura Ashley stuff didn’t fit and the stuff that did fit looked too sexy… [My mother] didn’t make me hide my body, didn’t make me feel bad about it, we just figured out another way. I always felt confident and comfortable—but still frustrated.
What sparked you to act on those frustrations and start designing?
When I was in college [at UCLA], I worked in this store called Tracey Ross—which was the coolest store in L.A. at the time—and I would see these young girls come in and show their lines. They would have crappy samples but cute ideas and I just thought: “What? Young people can just start a clothing line?” That was sort of where the seed was planted.
In a nutshell, who is the quintessential Shoshanna customer?
It’s a young woman who is growing into her body and wants to feel pretty and sexy, but still elegant… It’s a woman who’s in her 50s and in great shape, but wants to hide this and that while accenting the best parts. It’s someone who’s a lot like me, who wears a lot of “hats” and likes her clothes to be able to go from school to work to the playground to dinner.
Tell us more about being named Style Director at Elizabeth Arden.
I’m really excited about the project with Elizabeth Arden. I think it’s such a nice marriage. I love the company, and I’m honored to be their Style Director. They’re such an iconic brand—growing up in New York, the Red Door was so glamorous. They’re looking to evolve, and I’m happy to help them do it.
Do you have any tips on maintaining personal style while raising kids?
I think you organize your life—and your clothes—in a way that makes you stop wasting the silly moments. I can get dressed at night so quickly if [my husband and I] have to go out. You need a couple good pairs of shoes that go with everything, a great evening bag, a great day bag, and then you have to get rid of the clutter.
Do you have a philosophy on balancing family time with other responsibilities?
All my time is family time—I only do other stuff when they’re not around. I spend every minute with them on the weekends, happily! I’m very grateful that my office allows me to be this kind of mom—I leave every day at 2:30pm to pick up my daughter. I work from home a lot…I would never miss an appointment, I would never not pick my kids up from school…I know these years will go quickly and I’ll never get them back. That’s how my family was and still is.
How does your parenting style compare to and complement your husband’s?
My husband is super-antsy and he’s very athletic…he sort of half-forced my daughter into hockey, but now she likes it… I’d rather just take Sienna to a museum or take her to Chinatown, and walk and talk. He likes activities. But that’s good—we’re different in that way… Like, we’ll go to a resort and he’ll take Sienna water-skiing, and to play tennis, and to go fishing, and I’ll just take her to the ocean to look for shells. I want to be on vacation when we’re on vacation but he wants to, you know, join the Olympics. Otherwise our parenting styles are similar. We grew up in New York together and have similar ideas about family and raising children.
Any activities in particular you enjoy on the weekends?
We go ice skating every weekend. We go to this ice skating club on Long Island—it’s like 40 minutes from the city… [My husband] plays ice hockey, and my daughter plays ice hockey, and I’m a figure skater.
What are your kids like right now? Is Sienna a good big sister?
[The twins] are Sienna’s babies and I’m just there to help! She is so in love with them—she is a great big sister. It was not our plan to wait that long [after having our first child], as I’m sure you can imagine, but it ended up being a beautiful distance in between because Sienna’s life didn’t really change except for that she became a big sister… Sienna is a special, special human. The kindest soul I’ve ever encountered… The twins, they are—from the day they were born—who they are. Angelica is a force to be reckoned with. She’s loud and aggressive but always with a smile on her face. She always needs both toys, and both pacifiers. And Colby—he’s a lover, not a fighter. He’s soft and sweet and gentle.
Were you ready for twins?
It was a long journey to get there and I think you could have thrown anything at me. I was just praying that there was a happy ending… I think when you’re as appreciative as I was, nothing could have thrown me… So far, they’ve just been fun, and I’m sure when we get to applying for kindergarten I’ll think: “This isn’t so fun!” But if you have a couple things happen in life that are tough, they don’t really mean anything in the big picture…both my parents are survivors of the Holocaust and I go back to that every day of my life. Nothing is that bad. Having two new children is just the greatest joy and gift. I feel so lucky because I didn’t think I could have any more children.
What would you say to other women expecting twins?
I had, and have, really good help. I think that’s the most important thing—there’s no one baby carrier or anything that you need—but you need help. You need someone to relieve you. You need to sleep. You can’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself because you can’t be a good mom if you’re not energized. I think the most important thing that any new mom—whether it’s child one, two, or three—you need to plan how you’re going to handle your life and make an adjustment for these new lives that will be with you forever… My friend just had twins and she kept saying to me: “You have to tell me what I need!” And I just said: “Really? Just two cribs, a lot of diapers, and some help!”
How does Sienna’s experience growing up in New York compare to your own?
She goes to [the same all-girls private school that I went to]. And Sienna goes to dancing school like Josh and I did. Josh and I had incredibly happy childhoods, so we’re trying to recreate a lot of our memories.
What makes New York a great place to raise a family?
New York is the most magnificent city on the planet. It’s got everything at your fingertips. We utilize the city… If you use New York in the right way, it can be the most amazing place on earth. I took Sienna to the MoMA the other day and she was like: “These are the real paintings?” And I said: “Yeah, you live in a city where they have the real stuff!”
Are there any hidden gems you and your family love?
We love Chinatown… We go to the Golden Unicorn which is this place where, on Sunday mornings and afternoons, they do the old-school dim-sum where they pass around the carts. They have 30-40 different dishes, and some are amazing and some are like…chicken feet. It’s so interesting to share that with Sienna and show her the different cultures in our city.
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?
I never make New Year’s resolutions. That’s because I feel like I make resolutions every day and try to be better every day. Every day I want to eat better, or sleep better, or be more organized, or whatever it is. I never understood [making resolutions]—because why didn’t you just do it already?