by Karen Alberg Grossman

The violence was everywhere. Working as a hairstylist in Northern Ireland, Alison Gray (now Mangaroo) was well aware that any day could literally be her last. So, in May 1992 at the urging of a friend who lived in the States, Alison packed a backpack and $1,000 in savings and moved to Brooklyn. She started out waitressing but her innate creativity and fashion flair led her to retailing. Landing a job at Atrium on lower Broadway where she stayed for 13 years, Alison climbed the ladder from sales to department manager to menswear buyer. “I was spoiled back then because we could push the brands we believed in. Starting with brands like Diesel, DKNY, Timberland, later morphing into a premium denim destination and a hub for emerging brands, if we believed in it, we bought it big and sold it big! We were always able to push the envelope.”

An online retail job soon followed, where Alison was buyer and director of men’s. Having trouble finding the type of young men’s dress-up she envisioned, she worked with Vince Marrone at Moda Spiga (before it was Paisley & Gray, Alison being the Gray) to develop an on-trend collection for her site. “Working online, I knew the pieces needed personality to stand out. We experimented with contrast linings and it was a home run. Plus, the slim fit, the colors, the patterns, the hand of the fabrics, it all came together perfectly.”

Recognizing her talent, Marrone persuaded her to come work with him, ultimately offering a partnership in the business. “I met Alison in July 2012 and could see early on that she looked at things through a different lens. My gut told me that this was what we needed, what the market needed. From the start, she gave Paisley & Gray an edginess, a spark, and a voice.”

On being a female design director at a men’s fashion company, Alison admits it can be tough. “It takes a long time to be taken seriously,” she confides. “You’re often overshadowed…” This bothers her only slightly, especially since she gets wonderful consumer feedback from guys who rave about the clothing, delighted to learn it’s designed by a woman. (Like its retail partners, Paisley’s direct-to-consumer business grew during the pandemic and now generates a nice portion of total sales.)

What’s the secret to satisfying an unpredictable demographic (essentially 18-34 although it extends to all ages) that switches in a flash from hoodies to velvet tuxedos? Alison explains her thought process. “First, I go into stores and study what I don’t want the collection to look like. Then I try to evolve what worked last season into something even cooler, imagining what guys would want next. The idea is to evoke emotion: young guys want to feel sexy and confident in their clothes. It’s amazing how they stand taller when they put on something they love. I’ve learned to avoid the predictable: once you give them what they expect, you lose them.”

It’s this philosophy that has catapulted Paisley & Gray to success in a wide range of stores, from Macy’s and Men’s Wearhouse to Halls Kansas City and Stitch Fix.

Asked about best-selling collections, Alison recalls huge reorders a few seasons back on polka dot suit separates. “Who would have expected that? Then, thanks to a production error, we somehow ended up with polka dot elbow patches on a bright red suit jacket and that too became a top seller. We do well with variations on a theme.” A disappointment, she confides, involved allowing a retailer to buy too many units of a basic black suit. “That’s not who we are,” she confirms. “I shouldn’t have let the buyer do it.”

As for the looser, gender-fluid styles now showing on designer runways, Alison never says never but notes that Paisley is known for its fit. “It’s possible we’ll add some slouchy looks to an upcoming collection to mix it up a bit. Interestingly, we have a lot of women who buy our suits (editor’s note: Alison is wearing one). The L.A.-based company that does our PR placements often puts women in our jackets and pants. Even celebs like Helen Hunt and Idina Menzel have been photographed wearing our suits!”

Says Marrone of his talented designer (who lives in Glen Rock, NJ with her husband Howard and daughter Dylan, 14; her elder daughter Sydney, 22, is studying at SCAD in Atlanta), “We had a shared vision to make fun, sexy, visually exciting clothing. By 2015, Alison was working with me as a partner in the company, having fun every day. She’s a strong woman but warm, friendly, and uniquely talented, connecting the fashion dots in an unusual, beautiful way. It’s a tribute to Alison that one can recognize Paisley & Gray without ever looking at the label.”


  1. Alison is a fabulous designer and is doing a fantastic job making Paisley and Gray a fantastic brand.
    She is very talented and working with Vince Marrone they have a winning combination together

    1. I’m a big fan of Paisley & Grey and after reading this article I understand why. Thank you Allison and Vince for your vision and insights. Lee

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