Alex Gilbert and Jennifer Noyes created their clothing brand, M. Martin, because stores lacked what they craved. “We love to feel like we’re in pajamas or sweatpants,” Gilbert says. “It really did start with the idea of, why can’t you be comfortable when you look good?” But velour tracksuits and derrière-revealing leggings, this line is not. Slouchy yet sexy, cinched at the waist and billowy at the ankles, M. Martin’s cashmere sweaters and tailored trousers evoke the elegance of a time gone by, before pants pockets were optimized for iPhones and machine-punched holes turned perfectly good garments into sartorial Swiss cheese.
M. Martin is sportswear by the classic definition—casual and practical styles for women, not “athleisure.” “We understood the term, but thought of it more in a contemporary way,” says Gilbert, who previously founded Paper Denim & Cloth. She met Noyes, a former womenswear director at Prada, a few years ago, while working on a relaunch of her denim brand that she ultimately left. Both working mothers, they bonded over their desire for modern, sophisticated, and affordable clothing for grown-ups.
“It honestly was just as simple as [the fact that] we were frustrated consumers,” says Noyes. “We didn’t like what we saw in the marketplace. It’s a lot of bells and whistles; it’s a lot of fast fashion. We were saying that we both gravitate toward easy and simplistic styles that are timeless.” In July 2014, they created M. Martin, named after Gilbert’s grandparents, Martin and Mina, who started a clothing business during World War II. “They evoked something very special to me,” Gilbert says. “They had this amazing sense of style and wonderful sophistication about how they dressed and what their homes were like, yet they were really down to earth. It resonated with Jen, as well.”
The brand launched in stores last summer. With their own retail shop in the works, Gilbert and Noyes currently sell in boutiques that stock a mix of high and low: La Garçonne in New York and Tomorrowland in Japan. While the line’s sumptuous fabrics and well-lit Instagram feed convey a feeling of otherworldly luxury, owing to its namesake, its designers try to keep it real. “We look the same almost every single day,” says Noyes, who “pretty much lives in” an oversized loyalty borders on obsessive. “Once we launched this business, I edited my entire closet,” she says. “I only have our clothes in it, plus some basics like T-shirts and socks.”
The idea is that the M. Martin woman could make a suit out of any combination of the line’s tops and bottoms. Noyes and Gilbert want to stretch the bounds of business formal. “Modern day suiting doesn’t need a jacket and a trouser pant. It could be an oversized blazer with a short,” Gilbert says. “We’ll do a T-shirt, for example, but with a silk and wool quality so that it drapes the way a suit would drape.”
The two collaborate on all parts of M. Martin, from the latest collection to its show invitation to its presentation. Both lack formal training in clothing design. They see this as an asset. “I think that’s part of why we’re successful, because we’re designing for real women,” Gilbert says. And while they see a place for their line in the pantheon of American womens’ sportswear, they know it’s early days. “We’re in a bubble,” Noyes says. “We rarely leave the office, we live here most of the time, so to have anyone refer to us as anything but people who kind of barely hold it together …” She trails off.
“We’re trying to create a business that resonates with women,” Gilbert says. Noyes pipes up: “Real women, now.”