This Lobbyist Is Taking The Capital by Design

Posted January 13, 2009 at 3:52pm

Washington, D.C., often gets a bad rap when it comes to fashion. Recently, Michelle Obama — who was being called a style maven long before setting foot in D.C. — has been doing her part to change this misconception. So has local designer and lobbyist Rochelle Behrens.

Behrens, a lobbyist at Quinn Gillespie and Associates by day and a clothing designer by night, has a clear sense that this is a fashion turning point.

“Some people think of D.C. as having a style void, which I think is patently untrue,” the 26-year-old designer says. “The Hill might be one of the last places where a suit looks fresh.”

Behrens draws on her own fashion struggles in Washington for inspiration. The California native, who was a Bush White House intern before becoming a Democrat, says Obama is the ethos of her line because she is professional, accomplished and glamorous.

“The First Lady, like so many women in D.C., needs pieces that move with her, that transition properly from event to event, that are stylish, feminine but strong and that, most importantly, do not detract from the important work she does,” Behrens wrote in an e-mail.

As a lobbyist, Behrens has seen her share of fashion mishaps in the professional world. One major problem she observed was the plight caused by the button-down shirt. While a crisp button-down is the epitome of professional attire, the shirts are often ill-fitting and at times reveal too much skin.

“In so many meetings I’ve sat across from women, myself included, and you know, your bra is hanging out, you can see right in,” Behrens said. So she cashed her bonus check and set out to design a stylish, classic and functional shirt.

The secret to the lobbyist’s design is a “double ply placket” that features hidden buttons. Put simply, there is a layer of fabric and several buttons hidden beneath the buttons that run down the front of the shirt.

“The best part about it is that you can’t tell when I turn to the side,” she said as she modeled a white shirt with gold buttons. “You can’t see anything. It totally works, and it does it without in any way aesthetically altering the garment.”

Behrens, who does not sew, began sketching her idea last spring and soon after contacted business start-up expert Liza Deyrmenjian for advice on how to launch a clothing line.

Deyrmenjian said, “She took everything in and then she’s like, ‘OK, I trust you, let’s go.’… It all came together perfectly.”

Behrens eventually launched a Web site ( — featuring one of her co-workers modeling her designs on an estate in Virginia — and became a one-woman operation. She warehouses the garments in her Logan Circle apartment, does her own public relations and handles the business end of things.

After selling a few hundred button-downs, Behrens decided to expand her line to include dresses and suits.

“What makes my collection perfect for Washington has more to do with women who need to dress every day,” she said. “A modern power suit always makes you feel great and never goes out of style.”

Now Behrens pieces are being carried in boutiques including Sherman Pickey in Georgetown and Terra in Dupont Circle.

She even has a few of her co-workers at Quinn and Gillespie wearing her designs. Lobbyist Harriet Melvin owns two dresses, four shirts and several pairs of pants designed by Behrens.

“The button-down … is a staple in every working woman’s wardrobe, and she has made it so it is comfortable, pretty and stylish,”Melvin said. Behrens’ clothes can be worn “from boardroom to Broadway.”