The Mimi team in Shanghai
By Our Head of Production, Aisling Griffin.
Mr Zhu, the Atelier owner, & I.
Imagine a garment as a living thing, something that has a journey; it originates from nothing, and with a big bang and evolution, it suddenly transforms into a pair of quirky knickers.
Just like any other creation, a piece of lingerie has a beginning and it undertakes a journey before it is delicately delivered to live in someones powder parlour in their Parisian city apartment. Behind every great pair of drawers is a Designer; a Creative Director and a Production team making your fanciful dreams come true.
Here at Mimi Holliday, I have the privilege to work with one of those great thinkers and impassioned designers, Damaris Evans. Working on the production side is always a partnership of perplexing dilemmas, creativity and logistic woes. Words that sometimes seem at great odds with the beautiful nature of fine silk and French lace, but the story of any garment is always a labour of love, and once worn every element can be traced back across continents and through time.
Left: Goodbyes before the airport with Kitty, Damaris' daughter. Right: First night antics at a Chanel party before the work begins.
When I began working at Mimi Holliday the first thing I noticed was the unique relationship the brand had with our Atelier. A rare partnership and one I had not come across before in my career, an atelier completely dedicated to Damaris who had worked with them for the past 15 years. A symbiotic relationship in which the usual production channels I was well versed in needed to be tweaked and transitioned to adapt to what was already an untouchable partnership.
Damaris spoke of how she began working with the now famed Mr Zhu and Margot Chow during the heights of her demi-couture brand ‘Damaris’. Not surprisingly they took to Damaris’ world and committed their business to her within a year of meeting. Having full confidence in the brilliance of the design and eccentricity of the creator, it was an alliance they would not regret.
At the Mimi Press Day at the Peninsula Hotel Shanghai; Damaris, Mr Zhu & Margot.
Champagne breakfast from our garden room with a view. Press Day begins!
Atelier Manager Margot at the Peninsula Hotel Shanghai.
One of the most successful working relationships is between the atelier Manager Margot and Damaris, between them they have developed telepathic ways of understanding each other and I have witnessed new ideas come alight at speeds I never thought possible. Communicating at all hours of the night to ensure no detail is lost, I quickly came to learn that this wonderful atelier in Shanghai was at the heart of Mimi’s world.
Margot & Damaris in ZHUJAJIAO water town outside Shanghai.
Within a few months of my starting, the wheels were already in motion for the next collection. Being part of the design process, I had the pleasure of preparing the new season collection from a wonderful, uninhabited Primrose hill flat that had once been occupied by a writer and artist. We covered the walls with images and laid out all of the laces, shapes and inspiration for the new collection. The heavenly bay windows streamed in light and our daily view the colourful, bohemian garden that glanced back at us through the window panes.
Creative space; our Design studio, preparing for Shanghai.
The view from the bay windows in our Design studio.
This was to be my first collection with Damaris. The design process for her was never just one idea but instead a myriad of fragments delighting each other with surprises. As we began selecting laces from varied mills and developing new witty embroideries I learnt what made Mimi so different. It was quite simply the way that Damaris looked at things, what can’t be done should be done and when excited by something new her mind had already begun redesigning its potential. The design was unpredictable, creatively clashing and innovative.
Fast-forward some weeks later, rolling 9 suitcases into Gatwick Terminal 3, Damaris and I arrive in Virgin Atlantic's Retro lounge, ready to cheers our knickers work with a few cheeky Cosmopolitans: Ding Dong, "Last call for Ms Evans and Ms Griffin" … Okay, perhaps more than a few!
Cosmopolitans in the retro Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge.
12 hours later and a restful, albeit bubbly-popping journey we said "Ni Hao" to the Eastern world and shuffled our way into a cab headed for the Shanghai bund. As we drove past the spectacular buildings we arrived in our newly adopted home from home for the next two weeks: the inimitable Peninsula.
"Welcome Home Ms Evans and welcome Ms Griffin, we are delighted to have you stay with us…."
After a 12 hour flight so are we!
Two bowls of Laksa noodles later and a dire misuse of chopsticks on my behalf, we hit the ground running. Driving back through the bustling traffic onto the famous Long Wu Road we speedily scale the city and excitedly journey towards the atelier where we are greeted by the smiling faces of Margot and Mr Zhu.
Straight to business
We spend the next 12 days developing the range using the laces and colours we have chosen, mixing and matching, creating new challenges for the wonderful seamstresses and cutters. The brilliance of being in the Atelier and making such small yet beautifully complex pieces means that ideas are immediately realised and the collection develops and transforms organically.
There are no rules at Mimi and the artistic nature of Damaris sees a large collection that would usually be formed by teams of designers put together like magic. As the days pass by editing is as important as what stays in, we hang every style high up on our Mimi line that runs across the Atelier floor watching the collection form right before our eyes.
Surrounded by wonderful laces and trims, we pass each other by running and snipping fabrics, finding colours and laces in the midst of the fabric room. The beauty of having our very own atelier means old gems are never lost, new treasures are found in the midst of the madness and just like that a new story unfolds.
An archive of threads showing Mimi's love of colour. Amazing to think that over the past 15 years, each one of these threads has woven together some of Mimi's most iconic collections.
After two weeks language is no longer a barrier and many notable English to Chinese conversations follow where I watch in awe as Damaris communicates ideas with sign language and eyebrow movements alone. Whilst this is fun to watch, it is mostly testament to the inherent handwriting that is second nature to all of the Mimi seamstresses and cutters, the couture finish and quality of make on the lingerie was something I had not seen anywhere else in the industry.
Animated, creative battles ensue and at the eleventh hour fabrics arrive through the door; in true Mimi fashion the nutsy-end becomes the quirky and eclectic bind of the collection.
Made in China through 'our looking glass' has shown us the unrivalled dedication and loyalty that can come from this wonderful culture. At Mimi we are so proud to work with probably the best lingerie atelier in the world. For the past 15 years with just 45 people our Atelier has been dedicated to creating a couture product that has boundless limits, working interminably to ensure the imagination of the creator is actualised.
Left: Full moon evening on Shanghai's famous Bund, dancing in the rain with Mr Zhu & Margot. Right: Louisa and Mr Zhu racing through the back streets of ZHUJAJIAO water town.
After saying our goodbyes to the Atelier we spend the final day by the pool, with the calm sound of water by our side to distil the design typhoon of previous days. Margot meets with us and we go through the collection in detail adding the final touches to create the best version for our selling team.
Louisa and Margot by the pool at The Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai.
The pool at The Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai. Early morning swims in the pool awaken our creativity.
The last day, putting the finishing touches to the collection.
Our time in Shanghai passes like a darting needle through fabric; and our excitement is soon met with the anticipation of the work ahead. The next stages of production and sales go on for months after to ensure that the beautiful creations developed during the ‘Big Bang’ are carefully transitioned through their evolution to the shop floor.
So next time you tie up your bow knickers and glance back in the mirror to see that cheeky surprise, think of the love and hard work from the Mimi team that created them a whole year before.
Fun with the Mimi Team!