September 24, 2023


We Do Shopping Right

Sonoma grad’s ‘inaugural’ job in fashion a primetime hit

A small New York City fashion house run by a 34-year-old New York University grad has taken the fashion world by storm ever since then-First Lady-elect Jill Biden arrived at her husband’s inauguration wearing an ocean blue Markarian dress, coat, gloves and matching mask.

When the cameras panned to Jill Biden’s arrival on Jan. 20, Sonoma Valley High School graduate Anneliese Koch’s eyes were trained instead on the soon-to-be first lady. Koch gasped. She and her boss, designer Alexandra O’Neill, watching on TV at home, had no idea until that moment that their outfit had been chosen by Jill Biden. Calls and emails of congratulations ― and orders ― started pouring in to the luxury womenswear label’s office in New York City.

Growing up in Sonoma, Koch always knew that she wanted to do something creative for a career. She has loved fashion as long as she can remember and even created a fashion “look book” for her SVHS senior project in 2013.

“But I was always aware that it was a very hard industry to get into, and pretty cutthroat,” she said.

Koch studied design at U.C. Davis, with minors in art history and in textiles and clothing. After graduation, she moved home and worked her portfolio, hoping that the perfect career opportunity would materialize. After 10 months, she realized she needed to physically be in New York City to make that happen. She flew across the country, found a roommate on a Facebook housing page and started interviewing for jobs.

She ended up accepting two part-time jobs ― one at a small interior design firm based in Brooklyn and the other in the Greenwich Village offices of luxury womenswear label Markarian.

“I love both fashion and interior design ― I’ve always thought there was a lot of crossover between the two fields,” said Koch. ”Both were small companies and working for them enabled me to further hone in on what I wanted to do.“

In early 2019, she joined Markarian as O’Neill’s first full-time hire.

“We’re still a small team so we all wear a lot of hats,” said Koch. After almost three years on the job, Koch now handles most of the marketing and oversees Markarian’s wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales, as well as operations.

Markarian offers high-end, luxury ready-to-wear at a handful of high-end retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, as well as made-to-order pieces that are sold directly to private clients ― think celebrities and, well, first ladies.

Markarian added a bridal line in late 2019. “Prior to that, we were getting requests from brides to make some of our custom pieces in white, so we realized there was a gap in the market for beautiful, more fashion-forward dresses for a more non-traditional bride, who doesn’t want a giant lace gown.”

So how did Jill Biden end up wearing Markarian to the inauguration?

The Jill Biden backstory

Markarian works closely with a boutique fashion PR firm run by Savannah Engel. Celebrity stylists reach out to Engel and her team when they need something special. Through Engel, Biden’s team asked if Markarian would be interested in submitting some looks for the inauguration.

“Of course we said, ’Absolutely!,’” said Koch. In December, they submitted 10 sketches of complete “looks” with some fabrication options.

“We didn’t know who or how many other designers we were competing against but we were super excited, as such a young brand, even to be a part of that initial process,” said Koch. Biden then requested that one complete look be created and sent over for consideration.

“But we didn’t know that she had picked our outfit until she walked out,” said Koch. As an added bonus, it turned out that two of Biden’s grandchildren, 16-year-old Natalie and 21-year-old Finnegan, had also chosen Markarian ready-to-wear dresses.

Since the inauguration, the Markarian offices have been busier than ever, receiving hundreds of calls and emails of both congratulations and orders. Alexandra O’Neill and Koch are also busy preparing for New York Fashion Week in February.

Koch works long hours and is focused on the here and now ― helping grow the Markarian brand ― but down the road, she hopes to someday design for herself. In the meantime, she’s getting valuable experience seeing firsthand what it takes to create and build a successful brand.

And 2020 has been a year like no other.

“Retailers and other brands have gone under, so we feel really lucky that we’ve been able to weather the storm and come out even stronger,” said Koch. “I’m excited for what’s to come.”

She enjoys living in the East Village and while she misses California, she knows she’s in the right place at the right time right now.

Advice to young fashionistas

Koch’s advice to current students interested in fashion is to take advantage of any possible experience “as you never know where it will lead.”

She noted that coming from U.C. Davis ― which isn’t well known for its fashion program ― that she felt like a bit of an underdog.

“I was up against so many students studying fashion in New York, who’d had internships at Vogue and all the fashion houses, but if you just persevere you’ll make it happen,” she said. “If you are passionate about your goals, the good things will follow.”

Contact Lorna at [email protected].