Business: Marisa Meltzer
New York magazine|January 6–19, 2020
The Ladies Who Launch Lingua Franca and the rise of the resistance socialite.

One office of the fashion brand Lingua Franca is in a warren of spaces below the Jane Hotel, where Diane Jaffe, an embroiderer, is working on a white sweater with we the people stitched in red and blue thread that will sell for $380.

Lingua Franca’s founder, Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, is sitting in a room to the side that’s separated by French doors, picking at a hamburger and talking about how she started craving meat during her pregnancy. She has tousled blonde hair and is wearing wide-legged jeans, a Comme des Garçons Play T-shirt, and a charm necklace. She exudes jittery warmth.

“I had crazy postpartum anxiety—I’m now proudly medicated—and my therapist said to try doing something with my hands,” she says of the brand’s origin story. “And I thought, Well, Grandma Rita taught me to embroider.” At the time, Hruska MacPherson was running the party website Guest of a Guest, which she’d founded in 2007. That weekend, in February 2016, she was in Montauk and followed her therapist’s advice by embroidering booyah on an old cashmere sweater. She posted a photo on Instagram.

A flood of requests came from friends and family and strangers for their own sweaters with hip-hop lyrics and references embroidered on them. And soon she started selling vintage sweaters she’d bought off eBay emblazoned with I miss biggie, among other sayings, out of the Crow’s Nest in Montauk. Leonardo DiCaprio bought one for whomever he was dating at the time that read original gangsta. Hruska MacPherson and her husband, the hotelier Sean MacPherson (who owns the Crow’s Nest and co-owns the Jane Hotel, the Bowery Hotel, and the Waverly Inn, among other properties), liked to say hip-hop is the lingua franca of our time, and so the line had a name. But what it didn’t yet have was a conscience.

“ALL ANYONE EVER does these days is launch their own company. Do they just buy each other’s stuff?,” wonders a friend who has watched these companies and their social web play out on Instagram. And it’s true that Hruska MacPherson’s line is at the center of a tangled cosmology of small, female-led fashion companies started by women with connections in the fashion world and in society. Lingua Franca has collaborated with La Ligne, the everything-striped line founded by Vogue alumnae Valerie Macaulay and Meredith Melling and the former head of business development at Rag & Bone Molly Howard. Upper East Side boutique Fivestory, founded by Claire Distenfeld Olshan, was one of the first to carry Lingua Franca, and now Hruska MacPherson attends events for Dada, Distenfeld’s line of healthy snack foods (Cheesy Cauliflower Popcorn Florets, $4.75, 43 calories). Leandra Medine of Man Repeller went to a Waverly Inn Mother’s Day party that Lingua Franca threw. Medine worked as an informal adviser to La Ligne, and Distenfeld calls Medine “my best friend in the entire world.”

It’s not enough just to launch a company, though: These days, a small business has to be about something bigger. These boutique brands place themselves in the lineage of a higher purpose: activism, wellness, sustainability, size inclusivity. Clothes might be in service of the #resistance or about changing body norms (as with the creative consultant and former journalist Jessica Joffe and fashion veteran Alison Bergen’s line, Même Chose) or democratizing access to silk. Founders of a certain type can’t say it’s only about fashion anymore. In other words, radical chic has met the girlboss.

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