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WASP style usually brings up a raft of Preppy Handbook connotations: Seersucker jackets and madras plaid shorts, striped ties and polo shirts with turned-up collars. Lyell designer Emma Fletcher, however, harks back to an earlier era of Seven Sisters and the Ivy League. Headquartered out of her eponymous shop in New York’s Nolita district, Australian native Fletcher makes clothes that wouldn’t look out of place in a movie adaptation of Catcher in the Rye. Tweed jackets, velvet shrugs, bias-cut dresses, tie-neck blouses and other bookish basics are modernized here and given an old-fashioned flourish therea nip to the pattern to update the silhouette, smocking and covered buttons for genuine vintage finish.

“I really like when things feel antique,” Fletcher notes, “which is funny, because I was never that into vintage until I opened the shop.”

Since opening that shop three years ago, Fletcher has watched Lyell grow into one of New York City’s most in-demand brands. Now carried at Barneys and boutiques nationwide, the line thrives on word-of-mouth alone. But if fans can’t stop talking about Lyell, the clothes themselves evoke the elegance described by Coco Chanel, that which speaks with “a thousand whispered gestures.”

“I do design for myself, mainly,” Fletcher acknowledges. “But I think most people who like Lyell are looking for the same thing in clothes that I am. Pieces,” she continues, “that are simple but distinctive.”

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