There’s a good chance you’ve seen Merlette already. The brand’s voluminous, summer-ready Soliman dress has become a fashion insider must-have, and it’s no coincidence that designer Marina Cortbawi has carved out a space for herself with such a distinct perspective. Her background actually isn’t in design, but on the business side of the industry, which she says taught her a lot about what women from all over the world really want and need in their closets.
Where have you worked before launching your line and in what capacity?
I worked for small and large design houses in New York, London, and Paris. In some smaller brands, I did a bit of everything, and most recently before launching Merlette, I was at Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta where I was on the commercial side in charge of the international business.
What’s the most significant thing you learned that you brought along?
I primarily learned the business of fashion—the traditional retail and wholesale, as well as the direct-to-consumer model and how to market both globally. I traveled a lot and learned about all the nuances of the needs of different women in the world and their lifestyles.
What prompted you to launch your own line?
From meeting women during my travels and from my own needs during travel. I often visited very hot countries and wanted lightweight and easy-to-care-for clothing that was appropriate not only for business meetings but pieces I could wear off-duty too. Cotton poplin and eyelet lace dresses were my go-to pieces. I often wore vintage because I didn’t find the kinds of styles I wanted around, so I created them with my own needs and the sensibilities of the women I’d met in mind.
How would you define your personal style perspective?
My personal style is a considered effortlessness, so in the end, I don’t really think too much about what I wear, because all the pieces in my wardrobe have already been carefully considered, spark joy, and mostly all work back to each other.
I wear white a lot of the time because it’s a clean canvas, and prefer simplicity in the process of getting dressed and styling. My clothes have subtle details, such as rich embroidery that is tonal, or an unexpected ruching on a sleeve. I prefer loose fits, so I can move freely because I am moving a lot.
What has been your biggest “I made it” moment to date?
There have been many moments that have shown me that the brand is successful, such as getting a nice order from a major retailer, however, I would say personally it is seeing a woman wearing Merlette. The first time this happened to me was in Tokyo where I spotted a woman wearing our dress on the street, and I went up to her to introduce myself, and she just lept at me gave me the most massive hug!
Is there a certain type of woman you keep in mind when designing?
We do design for quite an international type of woman and consider a wide age range. The Merlette woman is simply very natural and appreciates a nice fabric and cut while feeling free and empowered in her clothes. Some of our pieces are so voluminous they become a conversation point, therefore we design for women who exude this confidence and openness.