City South talks with Fifi Simon, a Minneapolis native who made her dream of working in New York’s fashion industry a reality, and Mollie Ketroser who lives in Plymouth and runs the Midwest's first Simon Showroom.
How did you get your start in fashion?
Fifi Simon: I grew up in Minneapolis and my father was a tailor. He was at Justers, then Dayton’s, Marshall Fields and Macy’s, then started his own business. He had a tailoring shop in the basement of our home.
I grew up with fashion. There were always rolls of fabric and swatches. No one who knew me as a pre-teen or teenager would be surprised that I work in fashion.
I dabbled in modeling in high school, then I went to design school at the University of Minnesota. I graduated, and when Saks opened in Minneapolis, I worked in the fashion office, and I worked for the first fashion channel.
When I turned 25, I moved to New York. My first job was as a fit model. Then I worked a job on Seventh Avenue. I came across a multi-line showroom, a kind of business I didn’t know existed. I showed up for a job and I walked in and I knew this was what I wanted to do. The woman I worked for ended up retiring, and I took over the business. That was 20 years ago.
Tell me about Simon Showroom. We represent clothing brands and sell them to retailers. Anyone from Evereve, whom Mollie works with, which has 100-plus stores, to Combine, which has one location.
I have a strong network of account executives. They specialize in certain kinds of collections and represent the brands. Many of the brands we work with started from a person with a tee shirt and grew into a multimillion dollar brand.
It’s been great for me. We’ve built a lot of really strong brands. For example, 7 For All Mankind started in our showroom—it’s a multimillion dollar business.
Where did you go to high school? St. Louis Park.
And you, Mollie? I went to Hopkins and graduated from Indiana University.
Mollie, What was your entrée into the fashion world? Fifi’s sister-in-law, one of my mom's best friends, has a daughter named Marci, who went to New York to work at Fifi’s showroom. Growing up, I thought there was no one cooler than Marci, who worked for this mysterious person Fifi, who was the coolest person with this showroom in New York.
In college, I majored in business and fashion merchandising. I interned in New York [during] college. My junior year, Marcy connected me with Fifi and I interned there that summer. I knew I didn’t want to work anywhere else.
After graduation, I knocked on Fifi’s door at the showroom weekly. She'd laugh and say we don’t have any openings. Finally, one day I knocked and that night she called me and said someone’s leaving—I’m gonna hire you. That was about 8 years ago. It was meant to be.
I moved back here in 2017, and now we have the first Midwest Simon showroom. I had an office downtown, but now that we moved to Plymouth, I have a huge closet in my office. I pack the collection in my suitcase and hit the road.
Anything else? FS: I have to believe that my upbringing, my connection to my Midwest roots has a lot to do with my values.
MK: Fifi is a combination of the best of both cities, Midwestern values and New York style.