Say the word nonpareil, and a lot of folk will think of those sugar-coated chocolate drops sold in candy shops. But the larger meaning of the word is unique, fine, and without equal. So it’s an apt moniker for Michelle Moenssen’s Nonpareil Shirt Company, a new Ashley Street boutique showcasing her colorful hand-dyed jackets, scarves, and tops made from elegant materials like silk chiffon or merino wool. She calls her one-of-a-kind creations “wearable art.”

Moenssen, forty-four, is well grounded in both the technical and creative sides of her business. She holds a B.A. in apparel design from Wayne State and honed her seamstressing and design chops apprenticing with some of the Detroit area’s finest immigrant European tailors. From there it was an easy step to offering tailoring services for area retail stores, and then opening her own shop, Metropolitan Tailoring, in Birmingham.

After ten years she sold the tailor shop because, she says, “I wanted to get into the more creative aspect of the business.” She traveled the country, displaying her wares in art fairs from New York to Maryland to Chicago, but soon learned that wasn’t going to provide the income she needed. “It’s a fun thing to do,” she says, “but it’s a difficult business model to make a living doing art fairs.”

Moenssen plans to offer sewing classes at Nonpareil, as well as classes in fiber art, screen printing, silk painting, and soft cloth doll making. But the core of her business is making custom-fitted shirts for women and men, starting at around $165. She takes all the measurements, and customers choose details like cuff and collar styles. Most of her shirts are all cotton, but she also uses other fabrics like a cotton/microfiber blend that’s less disposed to wrinkling. She points out none of her shirts need to be dry-cleaned, yet people do it anyway, a practice that Moenssen finds funny—it’s unnecessary, she says, since dry cleaners don’t actually dry-clean shirts, they launder them just like people would at home.

So why do people shell out the money for dry cleaning? “Most people just don’t want to iron their own shirt,” she laughs.

Nonpareil Shirt Company, 318 South Ashley, 327–1837. Mon., Thurs., Fri. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Tues. & Wed. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Closed Sun. ­