The fashion world has seen its share of power siblings—think of sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, the myriad labels designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, or even supermodels Bella and Gigi Hadid. Among the newer members of this unique sisterhood are Houston-raised siblings Christine, Grace and Merrie Lee, who have combined forces to design contemporary women's clothing line Chris Gramer.
The line debuted in 2011, focusing on distinctive and high-quality outerwear. Six years later, the company has grown to product a full slate of womenswear, putting out four collections a year. But although the brand has its roots in Houston, it's only becoming available in the Lees' hometown for the first time later this year.
What makes Chris Gramer stand out is a commitment to what Grace terms 360-degree design, or pieces that offer interest from every angle. That's why a blouse will have an keyhole or criss-cross straps in the back, a jacket will have an oversized collar or a fuller sleeve to create a volume, and a dress will be adorned with an asymmetric hem and perfectly placed darts to add shape and interest. The attention to detail is dramatic.
"The way Chris designs on a dress form she’s always turning the mannequin around so there interest in the front, the side and the back, and there's no seam line on the sides, it's one piece of straight material. When you’re able to do that it's very couture-like—to makes things flowy, to have that higher-end drape feel, it has to be seamless," Grace says.
The sisters were originally inspired to get into the fashion world by their mother, who treats leather for handbag and accessories companies. When they were in high school, Christine and Grace found themselves with a connection to a denim manufacturer used it to start a jeans company out of their bedroom, learning about construction and fit as they went. Afterwards they put their fashion plans on hold to attend the University of Texas (Christine and Grace, who are just over a year apart in age, even roomed together) and get real-world experience.
"We're very practical so we knew we needed to have a base that we can build our business on," says Grace. "We always knew we wanted to come back and do something of our own—our own line—but we wanted to go out in the world and get experience." Christine got a master's degree in accounting and worked as a forensic accountant; Grace moved to Italy and taught before getting a job as a merchandiser at Gucci.
Then one day the sisters decided they were ready to start their own company, so they quit their respective jobs and Christine completed an accelerated program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Before long, Chris Gramer—a mix of all three of their names—was born. Merrie, who is nearly a decade younger, was involved in the company basically as soon as she graduated from high school. Now the sisters are spread out across the globe and collectively oversee every aspect of Chris Gramer: Christine is the head designer in China, where the clothing is produced in their own factory; Grace oversees sales in Houston, and Merrie is in charge of social media in New York.
Another advantage is having three opinions on every look. Christine and Grace source fabrics together, and once Christine starts sketching, Grace gives a first round of edits and then once samples are completed, Merrie comes in and the collection goes through another round of edits. "It needs to be seen from different perspectives. We all very different styles—you can see it in the line," says Grace.
The clothing are also designed to fit in real women's lives, so each piece is machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant and easy to travel. Dresses start at $100 and range up to $500 for special pieces—true to their roots, Chris Gramer features a lot of leather. Colorful, flowy dresses and tops are a big part of the spring collection, but the sisters are already focused on fall/winter, with dark colors and prints inspired by the plum blossom, a symbol of strength and beauty as the rare flower that blooms in the winter.
The brand has mostly seen success on the East Coast—New York, Florida and Chicago are big markets for the line, which has made its way into major retailers like Intermix—but the Lee sisters are impatient to see the line they created finally make it to their hometown. Starting in August or September the fall/winter collection will be carried at Muse boutique in Upper Kirby.
To Grace, the mission is clear: "Houstonians need to know Chris Gramer."