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Designer Q/A: Mimi Plange of Boudoir d'Huitres

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Mimi Plange is a long way from her native Ghana  -- literally and figuratively. The African-born, California-raised designer has taken a decidedly European approach to her collection, offering pieces inspired by the 17th century. Now in her third year of business and fourth season of showing, she's built a solid international following of editors, stylists, bloggers and, most importantly, customers who are dedicated to Plange's vision of old-world luxury with modern ease. Half an hour before her Spring 2011 collection last night, we checked in with her to talk heritage, luxury and growing a small brand. ESSENCE.com: So, how do you feel about the show -- it's about 30 minutes to "go time"? MIMI PLANGE: I'm so excited. I'm just honored to be showing during Fashion Week. I've been building this brand slowly and it's so great to see it, you know at this level, at this point. And I'm just glad to be able to put a little bit of my voice out there. ESSENCE.com: Describe this collection to us. PLANGE: I recently went to South Africa to show my collection. When I went I was obsessed with going on a safari. I wanted to go on a safari and go to a lion park and generally see what life was like there. I'm from Ghana, and Ghana is totally different than South Africa. I was just really inspired to kind of use that (South Africa experience) as a base for this collection. My idea is essentially a Victorian safari, so that I keep the whole branding of Boudoir d'Huitres. But then I also look at the modern elements that are out there and try to compile both of those together. The effect is something that's timeless, because that's the type of fashion I want to do. ESSENCE.com: So does this collection signify a departure or a continuation of what you've been doing? PLANGE: I think it's always a continuation because I'm a new brand and I'm trying to establish a look. So, I think it's great to be able to have a strong identifying look to your brand so every single season from now, I'll always introduce new things but I'll keep the basic principles of what our foundation is. We like to use a lot of corseting and corsetry details, we like to use a lot of hidden details, we like to use silks and leathers; those things you'll always see in Boudoir d'Huitres from season to season, but the themes will change. We'll have different inspirations but the look of the brand will always remain consistent and constant.   ESSENCE.com: Has the woman you are designing for changed since you launched? PLANGE: I don't believe so. I believe that my customer is a very smart, intelligent woman. I don't think she's a woman who just "likes" fashion. I think she's someone who already knows who she is, she obviously has the lifestyle, she's someone who probably can afford the clothing. She doesn't need it but she wants it. I think she uses the clothing to accentuate herself. And if you're that type of person then you're always that type of person, I don't think that that really ever changes. Maybe spending habits have changed but I feel like what the consumer is looking for now is something special. What makes an item luxury? Or makes it luxurious? Is it something that everyone can have, or is it something more unique and not mass-produced. I think we need to bring back a level of exclusivity into fashion and I think that's what my customer is looking for. I think she already has a lot and she loves clothes and she's intelligent and she uses my pieces as an accent for her self. ESSENCE.com: So you are going into your third full year. Are you proud of what you've accomplished? PLANGE: I feel really great, I feel like I'm learning. I don't feel like I've arrived or I'm where I want to be. I feel like I'm growing, I'm learning and every season, I see something or I meet someone or someone shows me something different. I'm just proud that I have the opportunity to be able to do this every single season because fashion is difficult. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of running around. I mean everybody knows what's involved but you have to love it and I definitely love it. SO for me it's not work, it's fun. So I'm definitely happy. I'm proud.   ESSENCE.com: Your profile is certainly rising. We've noticed how very international your following is. PLANGE:  Yes, we sell in Kuwait, we sell in Belgium. I've done trunk shows in Brussels. We've had a great reaction in Paris as well. We've had the Princess Astrid of Belgium wear one of our dresses and purchase one of our dresses so we're definitely out there on the international [scale]. But I'd like to focus more here, not only in New York but in the whole United States as well because I feel like I don't know if everyone has been aware of Boudoir d'Huitres or our presence. So we want to build our brand here in the States. ESSENCE.com: How are African-American women responding to the general ethos of your line, the price points or your pieces? PLANGE: I think that African-Americans love fashion, they embrace fashion, they like something new and that's it. This is just something new, another flavor for them to taste if they are interested. ESSENCE.com: That said, you do have a very specific point of view. As you said, you're very Victorian inspired and very luxe. As a new designer, what challenges have you faced? PLANGE: As a new designer, it's difficult to get your voice out there -- it takes a lot of money. So, I would say those are the only challenges that I face: public relations and marketing. The biggest challenge though would be myself. I'm the one that's trying to grow and I'm the one whose trying to put something out there. ESSENCE.com: Where can we purchase what you are producing? PLANGE: We sell in Kuwait and Belgium. But you can also find us at Eve's Apple, which is a boutique in Louisiana and our first US store. And we are also available online at www.boudoir-dhuitres.com.
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