Sean Monahan and Monica Paolini are the duo behind womenswear line Sea New York. Armed with a degree in finance, Monahan left Wall Street and jumped headfirst into fashion to launch the line in 2006. Soon after, he joined forces with Paolini, childhood friend and former design director of Betsey Johnson, to fine-tune the quintessentially New York-cool brand. Together, the two live and work out of their loft-meets-studio-meets-showroom on Canal Street to create the wearable staples that have made their way into the closets of Chloë Sevigny and Alexa Chung, and onto the racks of Barneys, Shopbop and Net-a-Porter.
How did the two of you meet?
Monica: Lord knows—perhaps at a 4th of July picnic when we were very young. We grew up in the same town together, Newburgh, NY, and our parents are friends.
What’s the one thing that makes you inseparable?
Sean: It’s either we are soul mates or Mon just pities me. I’d like to think we are soul mates.
How many looks did you launch the collection with? How many are you at now?
Monica: The first collection was about 20-25 pieces. Not hanging in all the color ways, SS14 is over 300 pieces.
Where is the collection produced?
Monica: 80 percent is in NY and we do our knitwear in China and also handwork in China.
Is there a muse for the collection?
Sean: Monica’s style is a constant inspiration. But at the end of the day, we are a customer driven brand and what she wants from us definitely structures our collections.
Your collections are sold all over the world. What are the similarities among your customers?
Monica: We think our customer is always optimistic and positive. She is chic, feminine, unpretentious, and happy to wear Sea.
With so many contemporary brands in the marketplace, how does Sea New York set itself apart?
Monica: By staying true to our voice and believing in our aesthetic and process. Our friendship is at the core of Sea, and we think its spirit translates into the collection.
What are your design/brand signatures?
Monica: We hope our clothes are charmingly grounded and a bit romantic. We want them to be special while being unpretentious–feminine and modestly provocative. There’s always a bit of lace, prints, and a bunch of jumpsuits in each collection.
To what do you attribute your rapid growth?
Monica: Mostly to patience and working with the right people. It’s been seven years now, and we have really let the brand grow step by step. Our retail partners have been very consistent and expanded the business season after season. The Barneys team in particular has been great to us and really given us the space and time to grow up. And Masa–who looks after the brand in Japan—has been an invaluable partner and a great friend.
We wanted to have a brand with customers that felt attached to it. And we think that’s what is happening; from what the stores tell us—and the emails that come in from time to time—our customer is loyal and does truly support us. And that’s true whether she is in NY, Japan, London or Moscow, which is super cool and encouraging.