Since last week’s SCOTUS decisions, our weddings section has exploded with hits, and our readers have expressed enthusiasm about exercising some of their new marriage rights. So, we couldn’t think of a more perfect time to interview the masterminds behind Fourteen, a clothing line of formal and wedding suit separates specially tailored for the lesbian, queer, and trans community. Fourteen founder Bernadette Coveney Smith and designer Marialexandra Garcia gave us the inside scoop behind the brand’s name, their inspiration, and how they troubleshoot formalwear fit issues for our community.
dapperQ: How did you come up with the name Fourteen?
Bernadette: I’m a wedding planner (for 9+ years) and my business is called 14 Stories, after the 14 plaintiffs in the case which legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts. 14 is also the constitutional amendment with the Equal Protection Clause which was used to overturn DOMA!
dapperQ: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of Fourteen?
Bernadette: Finding suits and tuxes has been a big challenge for my queer brides and bridegrooms over the years. When it came time for my own wedding to Jen, I faced that challenge personally. I knew this was a great business idea, but I also knew nothing about fashion or the clothing industry. One day, a colleague of mine tweeted me an introduction to fashion designer Marialexandra Garcia who had the same idea, but the opposite skill set. She brings the designs and manufacturing expertise and I bring the LGBTQ expertise. Once we met in person and decided to create a company, she interviewed many of my former clients who wore suits, and then started to sketch designs. Those sketches were turned into muslin samples and those samples were fitted on over a dozen queer models of various sizes, shapes, gender identities and expressions. The result is that each suit separate we sell is available in a standard fit and a boy fit in sizes 0-22. Our online store launched at the end of November 2012, and we’ll soon be moving into the world of casual wear, underwear and swimwear.
dapperQ: How would you describe the Fourteen aesthetic?
Marialexandra: I attempted to translate the visual aesthetics and mood of Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich with the comfort and familiarity of Ellen Degeneres. Fourteen has a classic spin on forward fashion.
dapperQ: Who or what inspires your designs?
Bernadette: I design with one particular person in mind; the one who feels comfortable in their own skin, knows who they are and feels proud of it, but can’t find the clothing that says the same about them. The person who thinks they don’t have “a style,” when in reality they don’t lack style, they lack the selection that really speaks to them. It’s not what traditional retailers see as feminine or masculine, it’s that particular piece of clothing that fits just right and speaks its own language and its own gender.
Need something for the honeymoon? No sweat! Fourteen’s gotcha covered in that department too.
dapperQ: Many of our readers have problems finding masculine clothes that fit them properly. How is Fourteen addressing this issue?
Bernadette: We’ve spent a good part of almost 2 years studying every detail, every measurement, and we’ve come up with our own measurements and our own fit charts. Testing samples on a very diverse group of people, from butch to queer, to FtoM and more, we’ve listened very closely to concerns, comments, wants and needs. The basic details were what we first took care of, arm length, torso length, armhole sizes, neck width, and the age old problem, the right amount of space for breasts. Then we added little details, the amount of pockets in jackets and vests, the depth of the pockets, the fit on the pants for the person with wider hips. We’ve come up with a wide range of pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched to reach a more personal sense of style. Of course, the idea is to keep adding pieces so the selection and combinations are endless.
dapperQ: Do you see queer fashion, especially as it pertains to weddings, as being different from more normative, mainstream fashion? If so, how?
Bernadette: As a designer I see queer fashion as very progressive, very modern fashion, almost sometimes ahead of the mainstream, but with so many old fashion elements mixed in; keeping it still down to earth and so wearable. Queer fashion for weddings is more daring, like taking androgynous clothes and giving it a new world feel, elegant but unapologetic.
dapperQ: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Bernadette: I am 36 and married with a toddler boy. I live in NYC. And my mission in life is to change the worldwide wedding industry to be more inclusive of the diverse LGBTQ community. I do this through the weddings I plan through my company 14 Stories, the many trainings and speeches I provide to wedding professionals through the Gay Wedding Institute, and now through Fourteen. I feel very much defined by my chosen career, though I also love to travel, read and make fun cocktails.