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MLE Accessories Bring a Brooklyn Aesthetic to the Hudson Valley

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Photos courtesy of Emily Li Mandri/MLE

MLE, a fashion brand born in Brooklyn, brings unique, eco-friendly style to Saugerties via statement jewelry and upscale accessories.

A few years ago, Emily Li Mandri’s life looked like a glossy series cooked up by Netflix, perhaps the NYC version of “Emily in Paris.” Playing the role of the talented and ambitious heroine, Li Mandri could be seen running through Manhattan’s Garment District. There, her innate smarts, artistic eye, and an MBA from NYU propelled her to top marketing positions at brands like Lululemon and Coldwater Creek.

But Li Mandri had big dreams to launch her own accessories business. She’d always had an entrepreneurial streak, having apprenticed at the sewing machine of her seamstress grandmother to create her prom dress and then running an upstart fashion business upon graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2009.

MLE necklaces

A Gentlewoman’s Agreement necklace

By 2018, she was ready to launch her own brand. MLE (no translation necessary; just sound it out) was born within the walls of her and husband Will Nainis’ Brooklyn apartment. Two funny things happened early in the history of the company, which Li Mandri describes as making “statement pieces with a touch of whimsy that can elevate any outfit.”

Thing 1: She designed a charming, clever jewelry line called the Gentlewoman’s Agreement. Closing with a magnetic clasp depicting two female hands shaking, the line is “a symbol of the strength women have when we do things together,” says Li Mandri. The necklace version landed on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2020. “Since then, celebrities have worn it, Anthropologie carries it, and women love to share it: mothers and daughters, best friends, a gift from a bride to her bridal party.” Business boomed.

fashion brand owner

Thing 2: The pandemic. Li Mandri and Nainis, who runs a social media consultancy and works on MLE business, had bought a gut-reno house as a weekend place in Saugerties. When Covid clamped down, they relocated to the Valley full time.

Her appreciation for the great outdoors soared. “In the city, I spent a lot of time people-watching and on Instagram, but now, I’ve disconnected from the digital and am more inspired by nature,” she says. Her free time is spent at nurseries like Adams Fairacre Farms and Gallo’s in Woodstock, as well as hiking Falling Waters Preserve in Saugerties.

The MLE line can now be found at Urban Outfitters nationally, as well as Berte in Beacon, Long Weekend in Livingston Manor, and Woodstock’s Maverick Road. Among her most in-demand pieces are retro ’90s hair accessories. Hand-molded from eco-friendly, plant-based cellulose acetate, the clips and claws come in luminous colors and patterns. Li Mandri also makes perhaps the world’s most luxe scrunchies from silk faille and taffeta. With hand-stitched details, they are “like a couture piece,” she says. She also recycles fabrics into chic, feather-trimmed handbags.

fashion clasp

Now settled into a Saugerties workspace, Li Mandri is expanding her team and flirting with retail. She helmed a booth at Kingston’s Field + Supply Market last May and loved interacting with customers. While no plans are in the works, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an MLE boutique somewhere in the Hudson Valley, where her “statement pieces for the modern gentlewoman” can star in their own space.

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