Mimi Plange | Fashion DesignerThis craftsman in heels has adorned and collaborated with a who’s who of public figures and fashion brands. Nonetheless she considers her creations the only celebrity. —GENEVA S. THOMAS
MIMI PLANGE is a serious designer. Even if Michelle Obama and Janelle Monae can’t get enough of her mesmeric creations, even if she has collaborated with Manolo Blanik, the 35-year-old is disinterested in becoming the next celebrity artisan. “I want my clothes to be the star,” says the two-time African Fashion International Award winner, seated inside her NYC studio, wearing a dark-wash denim blouse and unmatched jeans. “[They’re the most important thing.”
Mimi’s studio is actually her showroom. Nestled on the 16th floor of a New York Garment District sky rise, the quaint confines belie its usual traffic of fashion insiders—none grander than mentor turned friend, Andre Leon Talley. There’s a knee-high table stacked with books on contemporary art, which sparks conversation that leads to Mimi’s parents moving her from Ghana to Ranch Cucamonga at age five. As a teenager, she wore Vans—one yellow shoe, one red, with yellow-and-red socks, respectively—and men’s ties. Her earliest fashion inspiration came from period films and classical music, which she reveals introduced her to fantasy. “[They] allowed me to explore and see more.”
Unsurprisingly, Mimi’s Ashanti parents preferred that their daughter choose a traditional career. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Architecture but eventually took on fashion at San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. In fact, merchandising became Mimi’s main gig before a sharp and admittedly bizarre turn in 2002 landed her at Rocawear, where she rose from Assistant Designer to Creative Director by age 25. “One thing I really loved about working with Jay-Z is that he was a great listener,” she recalls. “He was really involved in the process.”
When Mimi launched her own line in 2009, she was admittedly confused, struggling to identify consumer direction and even a name for her brand (originally called Boudoir D'huitres, now it’s her namesake). It all changed when she received her first order from Kuwait and outfitted pop superstar Rihanna. Today Mimi’s offspring draws from her Ghanaian background with quiet design intelligence. You won’t find vibrant West African prints on her garments. Instead, in her Spring 2013 collection, “Tea With Mother,” you’ll notice she cleverly appropriates the geometry of traditional scarification as her signature stitch for lambskin sheaths. “I want to find a newness in African culture people haven’t seen before,” she explains. “I'm trying to design the dream.” She pauses, gives her showroom a quick glance then corrects herself: “No. I am designing the dream.