Going All In

by Lily Hoagland

BFS_005_03a 11x14Shoshanna Gruss is a classic example of a woman turning her problem inside out and transforming it into her major asset.

Growing up as a short and buxom young woman, she had trouble finding dresses and swimsuits that fit both her figure and her youthful sense of self.  She trained to join the world of finance, but right before she was due to begin going down that road, she changed course. She decided what she really wanted to do was fill a void in fashion and create clothes for women like herself. She asked her father, Zach Lonstein, the CEO of Infocrossing, what he thought about her idea to create her own line. “You don’t even know what you don’t know about this business and what you’re doing,” he said, but then gave her full support for her sharp turn into the unknown.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had anything in my life like that, where I was so totally driven forward. It did not matter if I hit a wall, hit a wall, hit a wall—I just kept going forward. I was going to make this happen.”

She began her eponymous fashion line, Shoshanna, by making her own samples and shopping them around town until she sold pieces to Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barneys. The demand was immediate. Her flattering designs for female figures were picked up by Manhattan’s social set and Hollywood celebrities, sparking more than a few “Who Wore It Better?” side-by-side comparisons. Her showroom in the Garment District, which began as two closets, is now a large warren of offices that keeps expanding.

On the day of our shoot, the place was buzzing with young women tossing around pieces of fabric, PR people answering  phones, and opinions voiced by all corners. Slipping around the commotion, I could see signs of the exponential growth that had taken over the past 15 years: the place is, forgive the pun, bursting at the seams. And, in the middle of it all, is Shoshanna herself. “I enjoy it,” she says. “I thrive from the chaos.” She bounces around the showroom, as involved in the endeavor as when she first started. Racks of rose shift dresses and kelly green bikinis cover the walls, alongside little one-pieces from her children’s line, which Shoshanna started after the birth of her now eight-year-old daughter, Sienna. (Shoshanna says her daughter is more rock-and-roll than she is. A drummer in a band, Sienna had asked her mom to find a chain wallet to wear for an upcoming show.)

As a fashion designer, mother, and philanthropist, she throws herself into non-stop days. Even at an early-morning interview, she is going full tilt. “Oh, I’ve already had four cups of coffee,” she says with a broad smile, and raising a well-sculpted but skeptical eyebrow at my pot of decaf.

Besides her career and family, Shoshanna makes room for her philanthropy work. She is chair of the associates committee of The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), organizing the society’s fundraising events and charity drives. At their Winter Ball, many of her fellow Society members told me how much time and effort Shoshanna puts into her volunteer work and how she also expects the same back from them. She makes it clear that the Society is not for women who thought this was just an entrée into social life, but a cause to really work for. As she swans around the room in a Carolina Herrera dress, she is greeted with smiles from the people she will convince to donate tens of thousands of dollars for MSKCC’s pediatrics department that night.

Her ability to shine in different scenarios echoes the philosophy behind her designs. Her dresses are made with an eye for beauty but also for what will make a woman feel good. “We try to be inclusive of all body types and be celebratory,” she explains. “Because I was very shapely, sometimes people would make me feel uncomfortable, and I don’t think that’s fair to do to any kind of woman.  We want women to feel sexy and confident. That’s my goal.” Luckily for the women wearing her dresses, goals are those things that Shoshanna accomplishes at least five of before breakfast.

For more information, visit www.shoshanna.com.

Photograph by Ben Fink Shapiro