Originally created 02/21/99

Shoshanna Lonstein makes name for herself



NEW YORK -- Forget Jerry. Jerry Seinfeld that is. He's nothing more than a fling of the past for young Shoshanna Lonstein.

This ambitious 23-year-old is already on to her next claim to fame: a new women's clothing line that's made her the talk of the fashion world.

While her business isn't even a year old, sales are expected to top $1 million in 1999, and her designs -- sweet, yet sexy dresses, tops and skirts -- already have sold out of Bloomingdale's.

"Shoshanna might be known for who she dated in the past, but she's really making a splash with her new line," said Gina Maher, a fashion editor at Mademoiselle magazine. "She designs with a women's shape in mind. She's found a great niche."

Ms. Lonstein burst onto the public scene as a high school senior who happened to catch the eye of Mr. Seinfeld as she walked through Central Park with friends. Their relationship lasted for four years, parting amicably in 1997.

Now, she's getting lots of attention on her own thanks to the unexpected success of her collection -- named Shoshanna -- that's designed for women with shapely figures.

Her dresses -- in colorful, yet classic patterns -- have shoulder straps thick enough to hide bra straps. Some also come with movable ties that allow women to adjust the top to fit their bust.

While some say the hype over her line is a result of the Seinfeld link, there are plenty of fashion watchers and consumers who applaud her styles and say their purchases have little to do with her former celebrity connection.

Ms. Lonstein dreamed of being a fashion designer but never envisioned it as a career. As a teen, she made bathing suits and lingerie for herself -- after she struggled to find anything in the stores that properly fit her.

After graduating in the spring of 1997 from the University of California at Los Angeles with a dual degree in history and art history, she interviewed for jobs in public relations and banking.

But she wasn't ready for the stiffness of corporate America.

Ms. Lonstein went to work in New York's garment district, where she learned every aspect of lingerie design -- from picking the right elastic to constructing the final product.

In lieu of a salary, her employers agreed to make sample products based on her ideas.

After a few months, her passion turned to dresses. They were easier to design, and she knew her ideas were different from anything else currently available.

Last summer, after finally persuading her father to float her a loan, she produced her first sample line -- four dresses that were each paired with matching pocketbooks and thong underwear.

Then luck -- yet again -- walked in. At a showroom space she shared with other new designers, Bloomingdale's unexpectedly spotted her collection and almost immediately placed an order.

It's been a wild few months since she got that initial order. Her line now consists of more than two dozen pieces, in a wide variety of colors and designs.

Bloomingdale's is showcasing the Shoshanna line in eight of its stores, and more than 50 other merchants -- mostly upscale boutiques in major cities -- have made purchases.