Alumni Profile • Liesl Bockheim Gibson '91 and Todd Gibson '91
Sew classic

Todd and Liesl Gibson with "S"One thing, at least, about Liesl Bockheim Gibson’s ’91 experience of being a new stay-at-home mother was fairly commonplace: “I really wanted to be happy,” Gibson said, “and I was enjoying time with my baby, but I was also feeling stagnant.” How things unfolded from there has been anything but commonplace.

To shake stagnation, Gibson started sewing clothes for her daughter. But the styling and fit of the children’s clothing patterns she found in stores left her decidedly unsatisfied. Having trained at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and having worked as a designer for Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, Gibson decided she could do better. She began creating and sewing her own designs.

“People would stop me in the street and ask where I had purchased my daughter’s dresses,” Gibson said, “and commenters on my blog [called "disdressed"] were saying, ‘You should make patterns for these.’ That spurred me to research the market. I realized that there wasn’t anything like my patterns out there and that there was resurgent interest in sewing among mothers with young children. So this seemed like a good opportunity.”

“This,” Gibson and her husband, Todd Gibson ’91, thought, would be a small business run out of their Manhattan apartment. They would name it “Oliver + S” for their daughter (simply “S” to protect her privacy) and her playmate. Liesl would design patterns while S was napping or in school.
Three years later the Gibsons laugh out loud remembering that plan. This past March, Todd quit his Wall Street job to be the company’s business manager. In August the patterns for Oliver + S’s fall collection arrived at their Brooklyn studio. Loaded on four pallets, they weighed 1.5 tons.

Oliver + S packageThe Sewing Examiner promptly made the new School Days Jacket and Coat its “pattern pick of the week,” writing: “Designer Liesl Gibson and company have outdone themselves again with this sweet and wholesome pattern.”
Sewers and their publications often describe Oliver + S patterns as “innocent,” “nostalgic yet contemporary” and “classic.”

“I design classic clothing that still has a completely contemporary feel,” Gibson said. “I’m really inspired by some of the dresses my mother made for me. She saved a few and has given them to S. I strive to create similar sophisticated and timeless designs that our customers can be proud of and pass down to their grandchildren.”

The packaging itself of an Oliver + S pattern says “classic.” Each pattern comes with a five-inch paper doll—resembling Oliver or S—and a miniature copy of the pattern design in which to dress the doll.

People who sew from the patterns find the experience to be like taking a sewing class. “I’m a stickler for good dress-making technique,” she said, “but I don’t want people to run screaming from the room. I’ve found that if I walk people through a technique, with clear instructions and diagrams, it makes the technical details absolutely do-able. The hard work for me is finding a clear, elegant way to explain the steps.

“It’s incredibly rewarding,” she added, “to hear from people how much they’ve learned sewing the patterns and how much they like the clothes.”

How about S? Does she love the clothes she’s inspired?

“Yes, but it’s not all she wears,” her mother said. “Sometimes I can’t get her to wear my designs. I guess that’s part of letting your child express herself, too.”

Learn lots more about Liesl Gibson’s designs at oliverands.com.    

Haberman Fabrics in Royal Oak, Mich., carries a wide variety of independent pattern companies, including Oliver + S.