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From politics to fashion: Huntsman sisters vote for the Little Black Dress

Published November 17, 2013 8:23 pm

Style • In an off-cycle campaign, Utah's former first daughters show off savvy social media style.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As Jon2012girls, the Huntsman sisters grabbed headlines for their 20-something wit and social-media flair during their father's presidential campaign. "We are shamelessly promoting our dad like no other candidate's family ever has," Mary Anne says, wearing big glasses and a fake mustache in a video parody of a Herman Cain ad.

Now, in an off-cycle campaign of sorts, Mary Anne and Abby Huntsman are applying their shameless promotional skills to fashion, tweeting and posting to advertise the just-right Little Black Dress.

"It's totally a no-brainer," Mary Anne Hunstman said in a joint phone interview with her friend Lisa Sun, CEO and founder of the fashion company Project Gravitas. "I think a little black dress is always in, no matter where you live, in New York or Utah or China."

Project Gravitas, a New York-based fashion company, recruits prominent women to model and accessorize its dresses for a month, then donates 10 percent of sales to the spokesmodels' cause. This month, money from sales of dresses modeled by the Huntsman sisters will be donated to Utah's Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

For the Huntsmans to turn from spinning their father's presidential gravitas to the perceived frivolity of fashion isn't likely to raise an eyebrow in the current media culture. "I think that line got crossed so long ago that it's expected," says Utah-based public-relations consultant Cheryl Snapp Conner, a columnist for Forbes.com. "It's not even an issue."

Project Gravitas sells 10 styles of black dresses on its website, retailing for $195-$295, each named for female icons. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the company's dresses is that each "has an agenda," according to Sun. Each dress is fitted with shapewear lining. The lining isn't girdle tight, "more smoothing and shaping, like your favorite yoga pants," she says.

The shapewear "instantly makes you look 10 pounds lighter," writes Adam Glassman, O magazine creative director, in the November issue.

Sun, the daughter of Taiwanese parents, and Mary Anne Hunstman, who lived in Asia while her father was an ambassador, bonded after meeting through a mutual friend. Once this summer, while the two were on their way to an event, Mary Anne even borrowed one of Sun's dresses, which she discovered made her "feel like a million bucks."

Sun, 33, a Yale graduate and former partner at the McKinsey consulting company, launched Project Gravitas out of her New York apartment in October 2012. The company launched its e-commerce website in July, and according to Sun, is projected to hit an estimated $1.5 million in revenue this year.

For the company's Women of Gravitas campaign, Mary Anne, 28, wears the Simone ($295), a V-necked, princess-seamed fitted design of cotton stretch fabric, named for Simone de Beauvoir. Abby, 27, wears the Jacqueline ($225), named for Jackie Kennedy, a boatneck style of stretch wool with a nipped-in waist.

The company photographed Mary Anne, a classical pianist, at Steinway Hall, and Abby at the studio of HuffPostLive, where she worked before she was tapped in July for MSNBC's "The Cycle." Photos of how the Huntsmans accessorized their dresses are posted on the fashion company's website.

Abby says her Jacqueline dress has already served as something of a good-luck totem. She was wearing it when she got the phone call offering her a job at MSNBC, which "has changed my life," she wrote in an email.

The second time she wore the dress was on Monday to a "Malaria No More" event with Hillary Clinton. "Politics aside, she is inspiring and continues to shatter that glass ceiling for women," Abby Huntsman says. "She asked about the dress and wanted one for herself."

Mary Anne says her mother, Mary Kaye, is also seeking her own dress, and so is younger sister Gracie, now 14, who isn't quite tall enough to fit into one. "We would love to dress all of the gorgeous Huntsman women," Sun added, demonstrating the stylish spin of a CEO.

Beyond the style and fit of Project Gravitas' dresses, Sun is banking on the company developing a following through its regular charity donations — 365 days a year, she says.

The charity angle is a good starting strategy for any company in a cluttered marketplace. "Any brand trying to break through right now is going to have to have something about it that makes it memorable, that resonates with its buyers as a brand identity, beyond just the clothing," Conner says. That's particularly true when marketing to millennials, who seek meaning and value along with their purchases, according to recent advertising studies.

ellenf@sltrib.com

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Project Gravitas

The fledgling New York fashion company is signing up spokesmodels — in November, Mary Anne and Abby Huntsman — as Women of Gravitas. Ten percent of the sales of the two dress styles modeled by the Huntsman sisters this month will be donated to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

Backstory • A age 22, during Lisa Sun's first professional evaluation, her supervisor said she was perceived as young, overly enthusiastic and lacking in "gravitas." Throughout her career as a consultant, Sun says she sought to attain gravitas in her demeanor and her wardrobe. Now as a CEO of her own dress company, Sun is banking on the idea that a woman who feels confident in her appearance can "own the moment." "I've always say the woman makes the dress," Sun says.

Information • http://www.projectgravitas.com