David Zaslav, David Zinczenko and the Next Big Name in Fashion

On any given Wednesday, the Michael’s dining room is chock full of moguls (David Zaslav, David Zinczenko) and mavens largely known to faithful readers of this column, and today was no exception. Yet, every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to meet people who, despite their impressive accomplishments, have managed to keep a relatively low profile.

Today was one of those days thanks to David Thalberg, founder of The Thalberg Group, who introduced me to a fascinating woman. If you’ve never heard of Lisa Sun, founder and CEO of Project Gravitas, trust me, you will. The Taiwanese-born, Ivy League-educated entrepreneur learned the ropes working at McKinsey & Co for 11 years, advising clients in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Latin America on strategic issues for the firm’s global luxury fashion and beauty practice. And, it’s clear in talking to her, that the inspired ideas behind her new business have been percolating for a long, long time.

Armed with degrees in biology and political science from Yale and a lifelong passion for fashion, Lisa rose through the ranks to become McKinsey’s resident expert on the luxury and fashion markets. As such, Lisa gave plenty of keynote addresses at symposiums, including the American Express Luxury Summit. While living all over the world and developing her business acumen as her career progressed, she learned quickly that dressing the part was also a key strategy in building a successful career. Having been a size 22, size 8 and “now a proud size 12,” Lisa was determined to create a line of dresses that gave style-savvy women the fashion they craved and the self-assurance they needed. And that’s how Project Gravitas was born. “We are that dress,” explained Lisa. “The one you wear on the interview where you get that job, the one that inspires you to go to that party, the one that you slip on for that very important day. It’s the one you wear that makes you feel like, ‘Bring it on!'”

Lisa Sun and Diane Clehane

The collection of 10 ‘niche dresses’, available exclusively on Project Gravitas’ website, retail between $195- $295 with free shipping and returns (“By selling online, we can keep the retail price accessible”) and are manufactured exclusively in New York with fabrics from the finest Italian mills. Here’s the real secret ingredient that is sure to attract the attention of Spanx wearers everywhere: each dress is designed with built-in shapewear from high performance moisture-wicking fabric that is breathable and machine washable. Lisa told me, “I wanted to make the ‘treat me’ dress for the young executive who wants to trade up from Zara, the ‘super mom’ who wants to look good for date night. I think of these dresses as beautifully designed safety blankets.”

With a handpicked staff of six (including Deborah Norman, formerly of Net-a-Porter) working out of Lisa’s apartment at the Essex House (they’re moving into offices in September), Lisa launched Project Gravitas’ just yesterday with a downtown gallery showing. She explained that the gallery concept came from good friend, journalist Sarah Medford, who compared the dresses to canvases which can be adorned however the wearer sees fit. Lisa, who was named one of Washingtonian magazine’s best dressed women, illustrated the point beautifully today by glamming up the LBD she was wearing with a stunning necklace by Joomi Lin and a blinged-out Christian Dior costume jewelry ring.

As for how she came up with the company’s name, Lisa explained that during her first professional review in 2001 she was told she should “seek to have more gravitas.” As luck would have it, for the rest of her career the words appeared in every performance review in an increasingly positive context. “I knew I needed gravitas to be successful in life and in business, so I began my decade-long journey achieving it.” In a nod to the importance of gravitas in the life of any woman of substance, Lisa has named each dress after women she describes as having “thoughtfully, creatively or fearlessly owned her own moment in history.” The names of the women Lisa chose to honor demonstrate she means business. Besides the usual suspects like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (whose dress is named ‘Gabrielle,’ lest anyone get miffed), the other dresses are named after Amelia EarhartEleanor Roosevelt, Ella Fitzgerald, Frida Kahlo, Indira Gandhi, Katharine Graham, Simone de Beauvoir and Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space, in case you didn’t know).

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