Excelsior’s Elizabeth Geisler Designs High-Fashion Clothing with Midwestern Twist

Excelsior clothing designer caters to Midwest sensibilities and high fashion alike.
The West End Opera Coat, first two from the left and far right, comes in black and navy brocade. The Turtleneck, second from the right, is a wool/acrylic blend.

Elizabeth Geisler’s first official sewing project was for seventh-grade Home Economics at Minnetonka Middle School West. The assignment? Pajama pants. The cut? Not so flattering. So Geisler went her own direction.

“I thought, ‘Huh. I can take the pattern and make these pants cute and fitted,’” says Geisler. “It just clicked!”

For Geisler, the fashion bug bit even earlier in life. Her fashion-model grandmother was the Winter Carnival fashion coordinator back when the event had a fashion show component. Geisler remembers trying on vintage gowns from her grandma’s closet and later redesigning them for herself.

Those pieces had a profound impact on Geisler, who saved babysitting money to purchase a sewing machine and develop her passion for fashion. She attended design school at the University of Delaware, interned with Isaac Mizrahi and other major designers, and even spent time in Paris. She noticed a rift, however, between the world of high fashion and what was available to women in the real world. She recently returned to Minnesota to launch her new line, Cocoon by Elizabeth Geisler, which brings beautiful fabrics and fashion into reach for women looking to build their wardrobes.

How would she describe the Cocoon brand? “Put-together and posh with dynamic shapes, textures, combinations. Luxurious. Flattering,” says Geisler. “And comfortable…you have to live in it! If you’re going to invest a lot of money in something, it should be completely wearable in your everyday life.”

“A lot of my influence comes from the timeless, classic style ingrained in me from my grandma’s closet,” she says. “In those days, you had a few statement pieces that all your outfits were built on.”

“She had a whole sketchbook of clothes from a very young age,” says mom, business helper and fit model Jean Geisler. “She’s always had this really classic style of design and gravitated toward more sophisticated clothing.”

Jean was one of Elizabeth’s first cheerleaders, and also an early client. She asked Elizabeth to make her a coat during design school. Inspired by glamorous Parisian coats and large scarfs, “Elizabeth thought, ‘Why not incorporate the scarf right into the coat?’” recalls Jean. The coat was a hit, and soon Jean’s friends wanted similar coats with the signature structural collars that inspired the “Cocoon” brand name. They were beautiful and flattering, made of high-quality fabrics that would actually stand up to Minnesota winters. For Elizabeth, a coat had to be pretty and practical.

Those down-to-earth sensibilities have come in handy as an entrepreneur. Jean explains, “Fashion isn’t just about designing; you have to think about the business side of things and ask, ‘Will this sell?’” She says there are lots of designers out there who make statement pieces for the runway, but trying to make it as a small business owner is a different ballgame. It’s something that comes naturally to Elizabeth.

A little “Minnesota nice” never hurt, either. “Growing up in Minnesota gave me an edge when I moved to NYC, because I really value the use of a please, thank you, and a smile,” says Elizabeth. “It really got me a long way with vendors…everyone likes to do business with a smiling face!”

Her smiling face—and long hours spent perusing NYC trim and fabric stores—is what her business is built on. Now available online at a number of boutiques around the country, the Cocoon line appeals to trendy women and traditional ones, too.

Showroom in Minneapolis has gone crazy for the Cocoon line. With 20 independent designers, artists and furniture makers featured in the shop, co-owner Kimberly Jurek says, “Cocoon by Elizabeth Geisler is a great addition. Her pieces are well-made, tailored, less trendy and more classic.” With a range of styles and price points represented at Showroom, Jurek notes, “Liz caters her brand to our clients who are looking for timeless pieces to add to their wardrobe.”

Jurek knows the local fashion scene and is an entrepreneur in her own right, so she realizes fashion isn’t all glitz and glam. “It's important to research trends and have great designs... but also it's important that you work hard every day to grow your brand. No one does it for you! Lots of hard work goes into making this a viable business.”