While helping to nurse her ailing father back to health, actress Hilary Swank made the decision to fill the long hours she was at the hospital by researching how to start a fashion brand.
For two years — between 2014 and 2016 — the multiple Academy Award and Golden Globe winner largely took a break from making films. She spent her time with her father as he underwent a lung transplant. In the middle of all that, she began pursuing “an idea I’d had for a while, but couldn’t work on because of back-to-back film projects,” said Swank, who stars in the upcoming drama “What They Had.” “It was the scariest time of my life. But in being with my dad, I could still be creative. I could find something challenging to do. I was able to make a lot of phone calls. I took time with the process. It wasn’t rushed because I didn’t have to squeeze it in between other projects.”
In 2016, Swank unveiled Mission Statement, her luxurious-yet-practical label designed for workouts, travel and general everyday wear. The collection, which initially revolved around an almost entirely black-and-white color palette, now includes bursts of bright blue and heather gray. Swank said the line, which ranges from $145 to $1,150, is meant to be seasonless — with new pieces dropping as she and co-designer, London-based Dorothy Keedy, deem fit.
In August, Swank’s e-commerce brand was sought out by Nordstrom, where the line is now available online at shop.nordstrom.com and the retailer’s bricks-and-mortar locations, including the one in Santa Monica. Tricia Smith, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for Nordstrom, said Mission Statement is a great fit for customers who are constantly on the go, and she praised the brand for being versatile.
That’s not a bad place to be for a fledgling brand. Swank said she jumped in fully, wanting to be far more than a celebrity figurehead.
“It was sink or swim,” Swank said, wrapped in a cozy cashmere hoodie from her line. “Every curveball that was thrown my way, I had a choice of how I wanted to look at it. I see life as giving you an opportunity to evolve.”
She initially financed the business herself and later took on friends-and-family investors. She hired Chief Executive Carolyn Risoli, who helped launch the Marc by Marc Jacobs label, and together with Keedy, they clarified what the brand would look like. They selected factories in Italy and Portugal, and asserted that “every piece would have a functionality — something behind it,” Swank said.
Take the Mantra pant, for example, which Swank recently wore while on a long-haul flight. She had to hit the ground running when she landed, so she wore boots with the pants to get to meetings. That night for a party, she wore high heels — and the same pants. Similarly, she has sported the label’s Center Court Dress — it’s short, flirty, fitted and reversible — a few times in a few days. (None of those times were on a tennis court.)
The brand’s sheer and feather-light cashmere Vice Versa tank top can also be worn in multiple ways, and the Va Va Voom leather leggings in the collection can be hand-washed. Mission Statement has also received praise from Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine, which declared the label’s $795 Traversiamo jacket, with its removable sleeves, the “perfect puffer jacket.”Swank said that as she and Keedy design new pieces, they take into account what their customers want.
“I can allow women’s voices to be a part of it,” Swank said. “I can incorporate what they want into the brand because I know that what works for me may not work for someone else.” She said that in this era of fast fashion, her pieces are made to last.
Perhaps they’re a bit timeless like her film work. As she did with movie-making, Swank had to learn the ins and outs of the fashion industry. “I understand the business side of movies, of getting financing and being responsible for other people’s money,” she said. “I learned how to sell things in that world while remaining authentic to who I am. It’s a simple concept.”
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