December 11, 2019

Clothes for Forever: Meet Margaret Coblentz, Founder of Frances Austen

By Emily Merrell

Buying cashmere is like buying a car – you become particularly loyal to a brand once you start shopping there. Just in time for the holidays, cashmere can be found in every store by every big name brand. Yet there is something special and precious about the cashmere line Frances Austen. First off, the sweaters are colorful and can be worn in a variation year-round. The same can be said with silk blouses. The right silk blouse feels just right to the touch. 

Fortunately for us, after years in fast fashion Margaret Coblentz wanted to change what was out there. She travels painstakingly far to source the right materials to keep her products sustainable, classic and give them a longer life cycle. Learn more below about her heirloom quality cashmere and slinky silk products. 

SDS: Having spent the majority of your career in the fashion industry, what inspired you to create your own line, Frances Austen

MARGARET COBLENTZ: It was a function of looking for a role that allowed me to drive the product vision at a small company and realizing that if I was going to have that role, I would need to create it for myself. It so happened that quickly after making the decision and going down the road of starting Frances Austen, I got pregnant with my first child and felt that being my own boss was going to be the best way for me to be a mom and find a balance that really worked for my life.  

SDS: Tell us about the meaning of the name Frances Austen, where did it come from?  

MC: It comes from a very close place. Frances is my middle name and the name of my great-grandmother Fran and my great aunt Frankie, so it’s a nod to what we inherit from our families. Austen comes from my favorite author, Jane Austen, one of the greatest authors who I think still does not get her due for the level of nuance and pathos of her characters because she is a woman and wrote in the context of bourgeois life. Austen nods to the greatness that women are capable of.  

SDS: Your product specializes in gorgeous 100% cashmere, perfect for SF year-round temperatures. Why was cashmere your calling and what was lacking in the retail world? 

Margaret Coblentz, founder of Frances Austen. Courtesy of Jason Barbagelott.

MC: I think cashmere chose me as much as I chose it. Living in SF I was an avid sweater collector but found myself frustrated by the sweaters I was buying that did not live up to their price and wearing 30-year-old cashmere sweaters I inherited from my grandmother that looked as good as new. They say the best businesses are born out of solving a problem, so I set out to solve the problem of creating an heirloom quality cashmere sweater that you could buy and wear for years to come.  

SDS: Frances Austen’s motto is “clothing made to last and designed to be as kick-ass as you are”. For people that are new to investment pieces like this, what should they expect in terms of longevity? Do you have any tips on the best care for your product? 

MC: What is great about investment pieces is you don’t have to do anything terribly special to keep them in good shape.  The higher price you paid for them should be because they are made of better materials, by more skilled craftsmen and are constructed to last.  For our sweaters we recommend a cold water hand wash with a cashmere shampoo (the Laundress makes a great one), wring out excess water and lie flat out of the sun to dry.  Hand washing makes your sweaters softer and is better for the environment than dry cleaning, a win all around!  We also recommend you store your sweaters folded and when you put them away at the end of the season make sure you have cleaned them so they don’t attract moths – the mortal enemy of cashmere.

SDS: Lastly, where can we learn more about your product and get our hands on it? 

MC: We are open 24/7 online. You can find us in Boston at For Now in the Seaport district through March 2020 and in NYC at Chelsea Market with Neighborhood Goods in December.  We also do a lot of fun pop-ups which you can find out about by signing up for our emails or following us on Instagram. We are coming to LA, Denver and Chicago before the end of the year!

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