Interviews With Friends

Who is Mimi Plange?

Curatorial Fellow Monique Long highlights Harlem-based designer Mimi Plange

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  • A vision board from Mimi Plange’s studio for her Spring 2012 collection. She was particularly inspired by the Herero women of Namibia.

  • A look from the Mimi Plange 2012 collection

  • Another interpretation of her Herero women inspiration

  • Samples from Plange’s collaboration with shoe designer Manolo Blahnik.

  • Plange’s approach to her 2013 Fall/Winter collection references her training as an architect.

  • A look from Plange's Fall/Winter 2013 collection

  • A look from Plange's Fall/Winter 2013 collection

  • In her studio, Plange surrounds herself with inspiration. The wall paper in her studio is a Victorian pattern.

  • Plange uses an Italian embroidery technique called trapunto to interpret scarification, a traditional body adornment practiced in regions of West Africa where the skin is etched into decorative patterns.

    Image: Head of a Figure.  Ife.  11th-12th century.  Terracotta.  6 ¼ inch high.

  • Plange’s signature trapunto incorporated into a leather shift.

Mimi Plange was born in Ghana and grew up in California. As someone who has always been interested in fashion, her mother and her uncle were her earliest influences. Her uncle, an architect, indoctrinated her with his love of art and music which, in turn, ignited her own creativity. Plange learned to play the flute, but understood early in life that she would design clothes. Before attending Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California, she obtained a BA in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. Her favorite visual artists include Kehinde Wiley, Wangechi Mutu, and Nandipha Mntambo.

Plange came to New York a month after graduating from the FIDM. After a few odd jobs, she landed a position at a major urban wear label, an opportunity that opened many doors. With no previous experience designing men’s clothes but a strong portfolio, she was able to enter the highly competitive talent pool that is New York City as an assistant in the menswear division. She says it was an incubation period which enhanced her knowledge of the business side of the industry.

The Label
She and her husband eventually started their own line, first under the name Boudoir D’Huitres, which she later changed to the current eponymous label Mimi Plange. Her design sensibility is informed by her training in architecture and her personal story as well as her desire to make clothes for a woman with a distinct style point-of-view.

Many come to New York with similar aspirations of rising, but Plange attributes her success in large part to her work ethic. She seems not to have been seduced by the successes she’s had relatively early in her career. Last year was a landmark year for the young designer—First Lady Michelle Obama wore a Mimi Plange A-line skirt to an appearance on the daytime television show The View, which put her on the radar. She was the subject of a short feature in The New York Times in Fall  2012, she was selected as Designer of the Year at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week South Africa.

The Clothes
By embedding her biography into her garments, Mimi Plange has created signature elements that define the label. One example is her adaptation of the Italian embroidery technique, trapunto. She uses it to interpret scarification, the traditional body adornment practiced in regions in of West Africa where the skin is etched into decorative patterns. Plange uses trapunto in this uniquely beautiful way, referencing her Ghanaian roots. The collections feature texture prominently, clean lines and feminine silhouettes that grace the female figure. Another trademark aesthetic are references from the  Victorian period which she  includes every season: diaphanous silk blouses, ruffles and floral motifs that are indicative of the period but are given a modern, even edgy treatment of vibrant color.

Fall/Winter 2013:
According to Plange, her Autumn/Winter 2013 collection, "Line & Curve," "explores curved dimensions and the use of space and negative space. The work of architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava's design of the Tenerife Concert Hall in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, served as a source for simplicity and sculpture. The rounded dome informed the curved seams throughout the collection.  I wanted the dominant impact to be the structure was able to make with such a clean and elegant design.  As a contrast, I also explore the intricate cut out techniques of Jen Grave's wonderous installation, "Ruffle," which inspired multi beaded laser cut leather in modern silhouettes and piecing.  For color, we focused on ivory, black, and bold infusions of burgundy, wine, and oxblood red. The mix of day and evening separates was designed for a woman, in love with modernity, effortlessness, and structure."

Spring 2012:
Plange on her Spring 2012 collection: "I capture the bright floral patterns I have seen the Herero women of Namibia wearing, and the beautiful elegant shapes of their headwear.  I am also interested in the color combinations of vintage black and white Japanese photographs that had been painted over with pastel watercolors, so one of the dominant features of the collection was color.  They are bright and muted at the same time.  I use the straight, elegant line and detail of the cattle-inspired shape of the Herero woman's head wrap to inform the modern lines of the garments.  I was definitely mixing cultures, African, Victorian and Asian.  The look is modern manipulations of traditional dress and art of Asia and Namibia.  The floral motif is from vintage Victorian florals which are worn daily by many of the Herero women in Namibia today."

Monique Long is Curatorial Fellow at The Studio Museum in Harlem.