ONE EVENING WHILE WADING THROUGH A stack of scripts she'd brought home from Showtime, Nathalie Seaver, a vice president of original programming, suddenly realized that she'd rather be designing a dress than making a development deal. So she traded in her briefcase for needle and thread, and opened a shop where she showcases her line of limited-edition pieces, usually made out of retro-inspired fabrics imported from Europe: sumptuous silk bias-cut dresses that invoke Rita Hayworth's Gilda, faux-suede skirts that skim the body and end in a flirty flounce, cool cotton frocks with matching fabric belts for the sophisticated picnicgoer.
Seaver, who is self-taught, describes her designs as "classic with a wink. I'm inspired by the fluid, graceful lines of the 1930s. I want to design clothes that are flattering to women of all body types." She also draws on the swinging '60s, with crisp, mod-striped straight skirts, sequined sleeveless blouses and patterned psychedelic silk shirts with bell sleeves. "All my designs start with the fabric and how it feels on the body," she says. On sales associate Amy Leduc: slim mod-stripe skirt in stretch cotton and a sequin tank top in cotton jersey with silk piping
Making crepe skirts led Seaver to come up with a chic take on reversible clothing: She loved the transparency of georgette, and found that if she layered the two fabrics, the crepe could act as both a liner and another skirt. Best of all, the skirts -- bright prints trimmed with a silk ribbon over a contrasting fabric that peeks out from the bottom -- come in three lengths and don't need to be ironed. A smart alternative to the usual drab travel wear. "I've had customers tell me they brought one or two of my skirts with them to Europe, and they didn't need anything else," says Seaver. Her fall line includes stretch faux-suede skirts that are washable and pack without wrinkling.
When she was 12 years old, Seaver decided she didn't like the clothes she saw in stores, so she began making her own outfits with her mother. At 14, she sold a long mixed-fabric skirt -- a template for what she does today -- to a fancy shop in her hometown, New York. It sold the next day. She continued making clothes for friends and family while selling her clothing to other stores, and finally opened her eponymous boutique four years ago.
Her store, with its fainting couch, dramatic burgundy satin drapes and dressing-room walls covered in fabric that Seaver carried back from France, evokes a breezy glamour à la Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey. In addition to her clothing line, she also carries vintage '30s jewelry and totes by the French company Le Panier Enchanté, and is known for her selection of vintage barware and memorabilia from France -- a particular passion of the half-French Seaver.
Although Steven Soderbergh filmed a scene in her shop for his new movie, Full Frontal, with Seaver in a cameo selling a dress that she designed, she doesn't miss her days in the movie business. "A film can be in development for years. I can sketch something today and have it made tomorrow. There's a lot of satisfaction in seeing your creative vision completed."