Meet Nina McLemore

Location: New York, NY
Age: 64
Marital Status: Married
Education: MBA Columbia University

Nina McLemore, 64, married, no children, MBA Columbia University, founded Liz Claiborne accessories in 1980, creator in 2003 of her own line of clothing… “designed by a woman with fashion and business expertise for smart, confident women on the go.” Nina’s exquisite jackets—from silk to vicuna—are the backbone of her collection, which also includes pants, blouses and tops, skirts and dresses. Her goal is to provide executive women with the fashion they need for work, leisure and evening.

“The baby boomer’s orientation was shaped by the traditional style of the 50s and the hippy burn-your-bra 60s. They think we’re old fuddy-duddies,” observes Nina McLemore, referring to today’s twenty-somethings.

Far from Haight-Ashbury and hip huggers when she was a young girl in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, Nina learned to distinguish herself “as a lady.” She dressed in simple, clean, modern clothes, which she and her artist mother made together in silks, linens and cottons. “There was no great place to shop and you could have great quality clothes and whatever you wanted for less. We used Cardin and Yves St. Laurent fabrics,” Nina says. “Mother was a marvelous teacher and it was wonderful to help her choose the fabrics and the patterns and work with her on the sewing.”

The fundamentals of Nina’s style haven’t changed, she says, choosing the words “understated, architectural and not fussy” to define it. “I’ve always preferred Armani to Channel,” she explains. “I guess my look is a mixture of Southern influence and changes I’ve made as I go through life. I’d say my sense is dramatic.”

Why did you leave the financial world to create a clothing line?

I wanted women to be taken seriously when they walked into a room. Women develop a big sense of well being when they look great. The fashion industry angered me because the clothes weren’t appropriate for anyone over 40.

Who influenced you?

My mother in a very positive way. She was in charge of the family gift and flower shop when I was growing up and she taught me about economic independence and the need to make your own decisions. My grandmothers also worked.

Your collection is colorful and filled with pattern. Tell us why you like color.

I look better and feel happier in color. I morphed into bright color as I got older. Many women realize at around 35 that black doesn’t necessarily look good on them, even though they’ve been wearing it for years. You must test what color is good for you. The wrong one can turn you ashen.

What inspires your fabric design?

I’ve always had an appreciation for global and tribal patterns. I look at lots antique fabric swatches.

Do you have a favorite look?

There’s nothing better looking than a crisp white shirt, Levis and a conch belt. I love the West and prefer Montana to Texas.

Favorite pieces?

My own ballet-style top and equestrian cotton jeans. I’ve worn the jeans to parties in Aspen in $30 million homes. They’re comfortable and can be dressed up with a great jacket.

Signature Piece?

An Egyptian style Georg Jensen gold necklace from the 1940s. My hair also became a signature because I started going silver in my twenties.

Beauty routine?

I don’t spend a fortune. Dove or Nivea to cleanse; Olay and Neutrogena to moisturize.

Your favorite designers, other than you of course

Ralph Rucci, Zoran, Shamask and Eskandar.

Exercise?

I’m an outdoors person. I hike and kayak.

Secret favorite spot in Washington?

Walking up and down the Potomac.

Favorite restaurants?

Obelisk in Washington. The [Northern Italian] food is extraordinary.The restaurant is simple and understated, like being in someone’s home.

Jean Georges in New York for the view.

Passion Project?

I feel strongly that my role is to be a change agent for women through philanthropy. My company contributes $150,000 a year to organizations that provide services to women, such as In Motion, that offers free legal services to low-income, abused women.