If you know fashion, you know designer Mimi Plange. Worn by Michelle Obama, Rihanna and Janelle Monáe her aesthetic is as progressive and unique as the women she dresses. Known for incorporating African elements of texture such as scarification and leather into her work, she has now expanded into the interiors market. Plange joined forces with Roche Bobois to design Utopia, a collection featuring her signature prints, scarves, clutches and skateboard decks as a part of the Roche Bobois Mahjong series. The Utopia collection is super local to Atlanta and proceeds benefit Horizons, an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children obtain an equal education. Mimi Plange talked with Pworthy.com about the Utopia collection, her new vision for business and African inspiration.
PW: You have worked in design capitals all over the world. How is Atlanta significant to you?
MP: I was introduced to Atlanta through SCAD as a stylelab mentor. The fashion was bubbling, people were excited and everything was fresh and new. It’s exciting new frontier and it feels like an emerging market.
PW: How do you translate your design aesthetic to the home? And what made you decide to expand into interiors?
MP: We do a lot of textiles. We’re known for surface texture. We’re transitioning because we’re so textile heavy and with print dominating it felt like it lends itself to the furnishing world. We do a lot of color blocking And we felt like with Mahjong being modular and moving around it was a great backdrop. We also do a lot of florals. We go through old African history books and study languages and we use them to create a world that doesn’t exist. We have butterfly wings on monkeys and there’s also the element of scarification and leather. Everything African we pull from everywhere on the continent, we like to showcase it in an unexpected way.
PW: Africa is moving to the forefront of style and design. As a designer, who has channeled Ghana and other countries in your work How do you feel about your place in this new movement?
MP: Our inspiration comes for there. In the story I’m telling, I pull from Kenya and places like Namibia and make it like a melting pot. I’m mixing it all together to create something new. My narrative is from a different perspective, because my parents are from Ghana, but I’m not from there. It’s different than someone who lives there and is from there. I’m building a global brand and we want it to sneak up on people. We want to pull them in and then they ask about the African inspiration and find out more.
PW: Tell me about your piece in the Spelman Fine Art Museum exhibit Africa Forecast: Fashioning Contemporary Life
MP: They have a piece from our first collection titled “Scarred Perfection.” The patterns scarred into the skin came from Benign, Africa. I love it because the lines are very fine and symmetrical, it’s very beautiful. Each one of the lines you see in the Spelman exhibit are stuffed with yarn and they’re all done by hand.
PW: Your mission as a fashion designer involves the democratization of luxury and taking old traditions of femininity and making them new. How do Michelle Obama, Rihanna and Janelle Monae embody your aesthetic?
MP: I see the as the type of women we would want to dress. They’re fearless and they wear what they want. They’re unique It’s really looking at this new woman who created her own success. She’s not interested in the label because she’s her own character.
PW: What was it like dressing Michelle Obama?
MP: On a a lot of different levels she has been so supportive of emerging designers. The fact that she can wear anything she wants to wear and she chose Mimi Plange opened us up to a new market. It was unbelievable and felt really good.
PW: You have a degree in architecture, like Tom Ford. How does fashion translate from the particular field of study?
MP: I always wanted to be a fashion designer, but of course my parents felt a little differently when I went to them and told them. There are a lot of fashion designers who studied architecture. Architecture has a tradition of designing within limits. When you’re a fashion designer you’re designing for a particular body and with architecture it’s a particular environment, so it translates easily.
PW: Tell me about some of your upcoming projects.
MP: We’re coming out a new collection in October and another exhibit titled Black Fashion Designers at FIT. I’ll be giving a talk with André Leon Talley and Tracy Reese.
PW: You didn’t show at Fashion Week this past September, why?
MP: I made my own executive decision to approach brands differently. I wanted to connect with consumers. The main is that there are so many shows. It’s hard to get editors to see to see it. Having a show just isn’t worth it. Because the people who need to see it are not there. Maybe it can be seen on instagram. We made a fashion film for Berlin and Toronto and those have had more leverage. It’s just not smart for business I think people are open to new ways of doing business.