Meet Gertrud, A New LA-Made Label Designed for Modern-Day Katharine Hepburns

Katharine, Marlene, Sandra, Sally, Patti: These are just a few of the powerful pioneers who paved the way for other women in film, justice, science, and music in the 20th century and beyond — and they're just a few of the gender norm-defying muses behind Gertrud, a new Los Angeles-produced line for women who are ready to take over the world. (In case you need a refresher, it's Hepburn, Dietrich, Day O'Connor, Ride, and Smith.)

The direct-to-consumer luxury label's name means "adored warrior" in German, which perfectly summarizes the brand and the woman who wears it, explains North Carolina-based founder, Sarah LeRoy. "It's this notion of pushing boundaries and being a warrior — shaping the world in which you live in, but in a way where you're still beloved and celebrated," she tells us. "It's staging a revolution from within is how I think of it."

The brand's debut collection, Volume 1, is comprised of 1930s-inspired silhouettes designed to upgrade modern wardrobes. The monochrome range is a nod to the black-and-white films of Hollywood's Golden Age, and standouts include graphic tees starring Hepburn and other icons ($150), a black silk shirt dress with a cotton twill collar and mother of pearl buttons fit for a grown-up Wednesday Addams ($695), tux-inspired pinstripe button-downs ($950), wide-leg sailor pants with hidden striped side pleats ($1,250), and tuxedo jackets with silk lapels ($1,250), to name just a few.

In creating the foundation of Gertrud, LeRoy "definitely played with what you would call 'masculine elements' — but I hate the term 'boyfriend jeans' and the idea of [putting] on a suit jacket or something that's considered 'masculine' and it just swallows you, like you're wearing your dad's coat or your boyfriend's pants. I wanted to take some of those things that have become symbols of power that we associate a certain way and reinterpret them for a woman's body and for her use and how she lives her life."

Prior to founding the brand, LeRoy was senior vice president of marketing and co-owner of Piedmont Distillers, which just so happens to be North Carolina's first legal post-Prohibition distillery. After a decade, the Winston-Salem-based advertising pro was craving a new way to challenge her creativity, so she took a chance on her dream of starting a fashion label.

LeRoy put her out-of-the-box thinking skills to use when creating the debut collection's collage-style lookbook, which was designed by LA artist Dewey Saunders. (Her college student daughter introduced her to Saunders, who she discovered on — where else — Instagram.)

While LeRoy is based in Winston-Salem, Gertrud is firmly rooted in LA. LeRoy teamed with SoCal-based product development company Blue Salt (headed by denim industry veteran Heather Morton) to launch her brand, which is cut and sewn in LA from fabrics sourced around the world, including the same Italian wool used in luxury men's suiting, silk from South Korea, and cotton from Japan, to name a few.

"We're really looking for quality and then also trying to work with countries that are democratic, they have laws in place for workers rights' [and] minimum wage. That was part of my drive to do it in the U.S.," says LeRoy. "I wanted to build this brand with integrity and make sure that people who are bringing their craftsmanship to it are making a living wage."

We recently chatted with LeRoy by phone to find out more about Gertrud and how she went from marketing moonshine to designing the LA-produced label. Read on below, and shop the collection online here.

What's the overall inspiration behind Gertrud?

What we wanted to convey is kind of this sense of timelessness. This first collection is very much about that connective tissue that brings women together, especially the kind of game-changing tenacious women [and the question,] What brings together like through the ages?

I draw a lot of inspiration from women of the thirties, particularly Katharine Hepburn and Georgia O'Keefe. I look at them as the first generation of modern women who really changed how women are perceived in terms of what they could wear, what they could do, and they were really pushing those boundaries.

How'd you make the jump from making moonshine to fashion?

I was actually an art student in college and studied fine art, painting, and printmaking. So I've always had visual creativity and it's always been a part of me, but as a career I went down the path of marketing and advertising and I've been doing that for many years. I really loved what I was doing [at Piedmont Distillery], but I was there 10 years and got to a point where I was ready for a new challenge.

Simultaneously, I started having all these ideas for clothing; things that I wanted to wear, but I couldn't find. I've always viewed clothing as a form of self-expression and over the last couple of years I wasn't seeing what I wanted to project or tell my story. It felt like there was a void for me. I thought, Let's just see if I can make this happen!

Though you're based in North Carolina, why was it important for you to manufacture Gertrud here in LA?

There's so much great energy in LA, [and I like] knowing that the workers are treated and paid right. Maybe we'll have some other work done here in North Carolina, but [the manufacturing industry in LA] just has a little bit more of a head start. There was already infrastructure and they can do a wide variety of disciplines.

If I'm going to be a designer price point, I need to make an effort to go that extra step and make sure it's made in a way that I feel proud.

What do Southern California and North Carolina have in common?

North Carolina overall has a very strong legacy in textiles. Hanes is headquartered here. Sadly all the factories are gone now, but growing up as a kid [here], the factories [were] in the main part of town. Um, and then yeah, and then VF [Corporation] is in Greensboro. Wranger and Cone Denim are also here, so it is a very rich area of textiles.

I know there are some things happening here on smaller scale, and I think they're trying to bring back some of the manufacturing. That's a lot of what's already happening in LA. At some point I would love to be working on both sides of the coast.

Given that LA is the denim capital of the world, do you plan on adding jeans to Gertrud?

Yeah, absolutely. I definitely can see doing more traditional denim with some of the silhouettes — I think there's a way to take denim and then do it a little more tailored.

Follow Gertrud at @gertrudcollection and shop the brand's debut range online here.

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