Mona Thalheimer Hears Her True Calling

I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “Fashion Icon,” and I always go back to the same thing. In my opinion, this title is reserved for individuals with so much instinctive personal style and effortless flair that they can take something simple and basic and give it that “POW!” factor.

Carolina Herrera, Tonne Goodman, & Diana Vreeland
Photo Credits: Pinterest, Zimbio &

Among those bonafide “Fashion Icons,” past and present, who have gravitated to the innate easiness of a great shirt; wearing them with insouciance year-round and for day and evening are Diana Vreeland, Loulou de la Falaise, Caroline Bessette – Kennedy, Tonne Goodman, and Carolina Herrera. Fashion can become so complicated and overthought, especially at this time of the year; a perfect shirt’s simplicity and remarkable versatility become even more appealing.

Mona Thalheimer White Cotton Broadcloth Vested Style Shirt $375

Like other wardrobe basics, the market is inundated with shirts. Still, there aren’t many who, like Mona Thalheimer, make them the central focus of their collections. But that is hardly the only reason she is remarkable and inspiring. Mona is the first deaf American fashion designer to own her eponymous clothing line. Before Mona’s first birthday, she lost her hearing and needed to rely on her senses of sight and touch to inform her world.

Thanks to a cochlear implant in 2001, Mona’s world is not entirely soundproof. According to Bruce Johnston, her longtime partner (in life and business) and sometimes translator, implants work best when done on someone very young (5 years old). Mona was in her late 40’s, so while she reads lips proficiently, Mona is still hearing and speech impaired. Between Zoom and email, I’ve come to learn about this woman and her moving journey.

James Galanos and Mona Thalheimer
Photo Credit: Steve Anderson Photography

Mona is drawn to the visual and tactile beauty of women’s clothing. Early on, her parents encouraged her to see past her handicap. Mona’s father was a Holocaust survivor who escaped a concentration camp. Mona says her late mother, Leisel, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Cologne, Germany, was a fashion designer. Her impeccable taste informed Mona’s sophisticated aesthetic.

The Thalheimers were successful manufacturers who made clothing for such design legends as James Galanos and Rudi Gernreich. Rudi became a personal friend of Mona’s, and in fact, he helped create the dress that earned her “Best Dressed” status at the high school prom. Mona was the first deaf student at Fairfax High School. Upon graduation from Chouinard Art College, now known as the California Institute of the Arts, in 1971.

Mona received employment offers from Givenchy, Valentino, and Brown’s, London, but chose to stay in California to develop her quintessential American style. In the ’90s, Mona’s designs were sold at stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.

Mona Thalheimer Shirtdress in Black Japanese Cotton, $395

After the death of her mother, Mona closed her business and worked as a costume designer. But, she missed fashion design and wanted her own collection so, in 2006, Mona founded Mona & Company. In 2010, Mona and Bruce decided to focus on two American classics: great shirts and shirtdresses. The tagline of is: “Shirts & Shirt Dresses Marvelously Made in America”

I’m not an LA person. I am more of a New Yorker who happens to be based in Los Angeles

Mona Thalheimer
Mona Thalheimer High Low Shirt in White Japanese Cotton, $385

Mona studied design and architecture (hence, her shirts’ architectural details). Her design heroes are Rudi Gernreich, James Galanos, Jil Sander, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Romeo Gigli. Mona is a big fan of The Row, Khaite, Gabriela Hearst, and Comme des Garcons which is her favorite store in New York. Even though Mona’s company is based in Los Angeles, she considers it a New York/European style line. “People used to think of the California market as swimsuits, blue jeans, and tie-dye.

That dramatically changed with the denim explosion in 2004, but it’s still a challenge to alter perceptions,” observes Bruce. To help with that “challenge,” the couple hired Linda Cohen to be their sales manager/consultant. Linda hopes to bring more awareness to the company and a more prominent presence in New York, and she wants to make sure they are in the right stores and have suitable social media.

Mona Thalheimer Scarf Tie Shirt in Gray Two-Ply Silk, $470

Linda has a very varied fashion and retail background. She has worked with wholesale companies, owned several stores on Long Island. Linda believes in the company, is passionate about the high-quality product, and loves it’s made in the USA (Los Angeles, to be exact).

Linda sees the tremendous potential, and she adores Bruce and Mona. “Mona is authentic. She is all about love and goodness, a beautiful soul who loves life and loves art. She takes everything in,” says Linda. “I looked at this amazing woman who never had the right support around her, and I wanted to help her move forward.”

Mona Thalheimer Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear

FYI, among Mona’s many fans are the actress Madeleine Stowe, who is also a personal friend, and Janice Dickinson. In Dickinson’s first book, “No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World’s First Supermodel,” Dickinson wrote that Mona is the best designer she knows.

Bruce admits that they haven’t done much to reach out to well-known stars for publicity but instead focused on building a unique company that appeals to a discerning customer looking for high quality rather than just labels. In a world that has become increasingly athleisure, Mona wants to bring back chic. She wants women of all ages to wear and feel great in her clothes.

Mona Thalheimer Liberty of London Shirt, $345

Linda feels that the collection’s strength lies in the solid colored crisp cotton shirts offered in white, black, navy, and gray. There are also shirts of 2-ply silk and striped shirts in navy and white and gray and white. For spring, Mona added cheery Liberty of London prints, and they are doing very well.

Mona also designs dresses ($365-$425), focusing on shirtdresses, and because she is a fine tailor with a couture background every fall, they add two light wool blazers priced at $535-$550. The Liberty shirts range between $325-$375 retail depending on style. The basics are $250-$325.00. The more novel shirts from $375-$475.00.

Mona Thalheimer Shirt in White Japanese Cotton, $470

The classic core styles are available on their website, and their more special and seasonal pieces are selling at small “A-level” stores and “super high-end boutiques,” across the country. They love the idea of being small enough to allow for personalization for the stores and customization for the clients. Here in Manhattan, the line will soon be available at Edit New York, 1298 Madison Avenue,

In April of 2021, Mona donated approximately $30,000 worth of her classic shirts to UCLA front-line responders. I guess you can say she’ll give the shirt off her back, literally!

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.


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