Exclusive Interview With Ghanaian-American Designer Mimi Plange

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VENTURES AFRICA- Ghanaian-born American designer, Mimi Plange started her luxury womenswear line in 2007 under former label, Boudoir D’huitres. In 2008, she changed her label name to her own name while committing to a multicultural vision of American Sportswear influenced by world culture and the Victorian and African historical fashion.

Mimi stands firm to her vision of producing beautiful and long-lasting clothes with superior workmanship and construction. Her designs reflect substance and high quality rather than the image. Mimi has become the favorite of many in the fashion industry and beyond, including first lady Michelle Obama.

Since its inception, Mimi Plange has received press coverage from major magazines such as Vogue.com, The New York Times, Marie Claire, WWD, Essence, Glamour Magazine and has been worn by Michelle Obama, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna, Regina King and Estelle, just to mention a few. Today, her designs are sold in boutiques in North America, Belgium, Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait, with future plans to expand to Africa.

In this exclusive interview, Mimi tells us more about her background, brand, inspiration and opinion about the rising African Fashion Industry.

 

Tell our readers more about yourself, your background and your brand

I was born in Accra, Ghana, and grew up in Southern California. After designing in the fashion industry for 11 years, I decided to start my own brand of womenswear inspired by my culture and different cultures throughout history. I focus mainly on the Victorian age and Pre colonial dress in various parts of Africa. I’m interested in surface texture and various embroidery techniques, especially trapunto embroidery which is said to have originated in Italy.

How did you get into fashion and designing?

At a very young age I was always attracted to art, its creation, its many faces and meanings. The art led me to music, movies, screen costumes and a passion for the clothes. Then along came fashion TV at 11 years old, and the Vogue and Harpars Bazaar’s of the world, and I was hooked on the incredible but true fantasy that one could actually design beautiful clothing for a living-and that was exactly what I wanted to do. I stayed focused on that idea, and as a child, I knew it was what I was going to do, I just had to find my own path and believe. I started with Architecture at UC Berkeley, and after, attended fashion design school at San Francisco’s FIDM. After graduating from FIDM, I moved to New York and began my career as a designer. After many years working in the fashion industry, I decided to launch my own brand, Mimi Plange.

Has your educational background in architecture contributed to your collections in anyway?

My Architecture schooling has contributed to my design aesthetic in every way. I love symmetry and lines in general. Every season I do trapunto line embroidery, and I create collections that are detailed and modern with clean lines and bold structure. I believe my schooling has given me a strong foundation for proportion, perspective and overall problem solving. I just now design solutions for the body, rather than the environment.

So you’ve gone by the brand name Boudoir D’Huitres for sometime. Why the change to Mimi Plange?

Ultimately, we decided to redefine our brand in its early stages. We adopted a new message of clarity, distinction and a sort of abstract minimalism that led us down to the path of re-establishing our new identity by changing the name to Mimi Plange.

Your collections clearly show your creativity and you produce great signature and unique pieces. Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am mainly inspired by historic Victorian fashion and pre colonial African fashion. I am constantly exploring the idea of fusing those two elements into American Sportswear that is modern, timeless and forward.
Throughout my design experience I constantly look to museums, books, art music and global news and events. Everything affects fashion. You have to be aware of what is going on in the world and around you.

What is unique about your brand?

Our brand has its own unique voice that is characterized by our inspiration. We fuse Victorian Europe, Pre colonial Africa and modern American Sportswear into innovative designs that are for day and evening. Our aspirational consumer is undefined by labels and monograms. She is searching for a Mimi Plange experience that is distinctively her own. We are interested in creating timeless fashion inspired by the past, present and future at the same time.

Your label has received high reputation from different media houses since its inception. What factors have led to the success of Mimi Plange?

I believe as long as you stay true to your core values as a brand, and stay loyal to your customers and their wants, needs and desires, and you do it in an innovative and inspirational way, you will be recognized. You just have to keep pushing the boundaries and focus on your message so that it is clear-you have to have a story to tell with your designs.

Having the opportunity to collaborate with a prestigious brand like Manolo Blahnik must be a dream come true for you. Tell us more about this experience.

Collaborating with Manolo Blahnik on shoes has been an amazing experience! We get a chance to push our inspiration further and to visually enhance the experience of Mimi Plange from head to toe. Working with one of the best shoe designer’s in the world is indeed a dream and an honor. The shoes are beautiful, and every experience has been Magical! We have continued to collaborate together and our coming out with our newest shoe during Fashion Week next month.

Who are your favorite designers? What core lessons are you learning from them?

I’ve always loved Yves Saint Laurent. I felt that his approach to design was so intellectual and brilliant. I loved his deep emotion and how his clothes were fantastical without being un-relatable to the customer. I think the biggest lesson with him was – be yourself, be true to yourself, and make beautiful, well thought out clothes that have a strong experiential story behind them.

What are some of the most rewarding and biggest challenges about being a business owner/fashion entrepreneur?

Well you have to love it, because it becomes your life. Having enough time in the day is the biggest challenge. Time seems to move faster and faster, especially as I have gotten older. There are several sacrifices you have to make in order to run your business, but when you see the results of growth and exposure, it makes all the work you have done so rewarding, and you soon forget about all the work it took to get there.
But all you have to do is give it about 15-20 minutes if you’re lucky, and you will soon remember that hard work again. And that yin and yang of it keeps you propelled forward for even bigger rewards as the time continues to move even faster.

Recently your brand got major news. First lady and style icon Michelle Obama wore one of your beautiful designs. How did this feel?

It’s a breathless moment of awe and joy! I am honored that the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama wore Mimi Plange. It feels amazing and humbling to have a woman with every choice in the world to choose you. Michelle Obama has been a major supporter of the design industry and young designers from the start, shedding light on many talents and boosting the economy with such strength and grace. I will never forget the day she chose our brand. It feels so great!

The African Fashion Industry is gradually expanding into international markets and has received great and promising news in recent years. What is your general opinion on the African Fashion Industry?

Africa has many amazing and talented designers. I would love for the African Fashion Industry to gain more support and momentum and find a way to unify the many different Fashion Weeks, so that key retailers and editors can focus on visiting to see new product from as many designers as possible when planning trips for Fashion weeks across the globe. It would be great to see a few major tradeshows, so that designers will have more of a platform to grow their businesses. Great fashion companies can create many jobs and opportunities to grow the economy. Supportive organizations such as AFI and Arise have been great! I’d love to see the African Fashion Industry grow with unity and a mission of expanding the business and industry of fashion in Africa with the goal of boosting Africa’s economy.

I love the fact that you still remain true to your African roots even in your designs. Do you have plans to expand your brand to Africa?

Of course! Eventually as the company grows, I would love to have my own stores and even own a factory in Ghana. I believe that there is so much opportunity for growth! Many companies are now producing luxury goods on the continent, and many factories from China and India are slowly making their way into Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa. All of us should be focused on Africa right now. It is the future.

Any advice for young aspiring designers?

Believe in yourself, and keep knocking on every door. Be patient! It will feel just as good at 25, 35, or 45 when you see all of your hard work come into fruition.

What Fashion legacy would you like to leave?

I hope to have a brand that continues to grow from season to season after I am no longer here on this planet. I would also like to make a difference in both African and American fashion. With African fashion, I’d like to help broaden our views of what is exactly African fashion. In America, I’d like to continue to help support the garment district which has been such an amazing resource for me as a young designer. We hope to continue making all of our products in New York and that the city’s garment district will flourish again as a top manufacturing source for new and fresh design.