Mississippi-born Nina McLemore (that’s nine-uh, mind you) returns to the South with the opening of her new Buckhead shop (110 East Andrews Drive)—her fourteenth in the U.S. She’s not bringing date-night wear, trendy boots, or edgy anything, though. Nina is about power clothes: suits in confident colors, minimal jackets with her signature stand-up collar, conservative evening wear—think dupioni silk coats—fit for a presidential occasion.
If you haven’t heard of Nina, as her devotees call her line, it’s because she flies under the radar, dressing a certain set of women in the know. You have heard of them. Clients are reported to include Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary.
Nina McLemore is based in New York, with boutiques in tony locales like Aspen, Nantucket, and Chevy Chase. McLemore just started her line in 2003, but she’s no stranger to the industry, having worked for more than a decade at Liz Claiborne, where she founded the accessories line in 1980. Designer lines like Akris, St. John, and Armani make sleek separates for professionals, but they don’t quite fill her niche. The typical McLemore client wants fine fabrics from the best European mills, but she’s less interested in trends than in style. She’s established in her career—typically at least in her forties—but she doesn’t want to break the bank (jackets range from $450 to $975, sometimes a quarter of designer lines). She wants clothes that are practical and materials that travel well. And she wants to be able to easily find her size, while designer labels tend to do the most business in small sizes.
A native of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (population 4,000), McLemore knows Southern tastes, though she’s lived in New York for decades. She grew up among artistic women who were interested in sewing and textiles and who compared notes on stitches and designs at family gatherings. On bringing her store to the Southeast, she says, “Dressing well, being very thoughtful about your whole image is something really unique to the South. It’s an important part of the whole culture.” Perhaps most importantly, she understands the heat, and she’ll emphasize her lightweight fabrics here.
McLemore already has a following in Atlanta through clubs, like the Committee of 200 and the International Women’s Forum, where she shows her line at conferences. Some local women you might have already spotted wearing Nina at big events? Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College; councilwoman Mary Norwood; and Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College.