I met Larissa Muehleder during my sophomore year of college in one of our fashion merchandising classes. She was a vibrant straight-A student who wore white eyeglasses which became a staple part of her everyday look. Named after her last name Muehleder, her clothing line is known for its neoprene tops and dresses.
Having lived between Africa and Europe before settling in Brooklyn, NY as at the age of 8 years old she quickly became a New Yorker. After graduating from Fashion Industries High School she attended The Art Institute of New York and F.I.T. so that she could learn the business side of fashion. Over the years, Larissa has crossed barriers to not only be known as a designer but also as an influencer. Just peep her Insta, when she’s not in the studio designing, she’s working out at the gym, celebrating a friend’s birthday, or having drinks at Dumbo House.
EBONY: How did you know you wanted to be a designer? How did you turn the dream into reality?
Larissa Muehleder: In junior high school, there was a fashion show being thrown by the senior class, in which the participants brought in outfits from their favorite brands to strut down the runway. My mom couldn’t afford to buy me anything new, so I asked to borrow something from her closet. I chose a dress that she had fashioned herself using African fabrics. It was the first time that I was introduced to the concept of making your own clothing. It was then further exemplified when students and faculty dashed out compliments and asked me whether I had made the dress myself. I really liked that feeling of receiving smiles just for dressing up in something that they had never seen before. I then applied to the High School of Fashion Industries and designed my first collection by my Sweet Sixteen.
Larissa, please explain to us how you became the queen of neoprene ?
My use of neoprene fabric all started from a little white lie. In my early twenties, after visiting countless boutiques in attempts of being picked up, I stepped into 3NY in Soho, New York to show the owner my latest silk chiffon polka dot tops. He was less than impressed. The only thing Sam couldn’t stop asking about was the dress I had on and if I had made it. I responded eagerly that I had and that I would be happy to make him a bunch if he placed an order. I rushed out of there with a 30-dress order and headed straight to the garment district to figure out how the heck I was going to replicate this dress that was actually another one of my mom’s classics. The dress was made of a stiff brocade that held its baby doll shape very well but was impossible to breathe in, especially when seated. I wanted to design a dress that stretched to the needs of your body, yet still had the volume and flare that makes a baby doll dress so appealing. That’s when I discovered neoprene in the deserted back area of a fabric store. It was as soft as cotton, stretched like nylon, yet thick enough to sculpt and hold distinctive silhouettes. I purchased yards of it in beige and layered it with a lace nylon that mimicked the brocade print. It was my first bestseller and launched Muehleder into 30 stores nationwide.
During your childhood, you’ve lived in Nigeria, Austria, Senegal, Paris, and Brooklyn. How has that played a part in your design process?
My most rewarding quality from living and growing up in multiple countries with different cultures is that I welcome change and embrace different perspectives. This skill helps me pay attention to the desires of my clients and the styles that they lean more towards. It was hard in the beginning because when I started my brand the only designs that I really considered were my own. But then as I shared my designs with the world, I realized its no longer my own needs that I needed to satisfy. I needed to satisfy my customers’ needs: the girl who aims to be the best dressed at the party, the mom who knows she’s still got “it” and deserves nice things, and all the women who find comfort in expressing themselves through their unique style. Learning what being sexy and confident means to a woman at every stage of her life and in every culture is important to me.
You’ve had celebrities like Issa Rae, Cardi B, and Zendaya wears your clothing. How does that feel?
It’s always a really cool feeling when anyone wears my brand because it makes me feel like we are sharing the same voice. What you decide to wear is a silent conversation with everyone who sees you in that outfit. I am always humbled when I see someone choosing my brand to speak for them in that way.
Right now you’re only producing ready-to-wear. Do you see yourself branching out to design swim or accessories?
For sure! We have a neoprene Bandit Mask that is perfect for winter because it breaks the cold and comes in 7 different colors to perfectly match your outfit while keeping you protected. More than a mask, it’s an accessory. I’ve also designed plush bucket hats and oversized scarves that will be released this November. In the past, I’ve done a few swim pieces and I definitely see us bringing more swimwear designs in 2022. In addition, my neoprene lovers can be on the lookout for a signature style plush purse and handbag next year! I can’t wait!
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