NEW YORK CITY BASED DESIGNER, MIMI PROBER, is a conscious couturier. Her eponymous label, Mimi NY, adds a twist to the conventional realm of couture by using reclaimed antique fabrics. Unlike pret-a-porter, couture is designed specifically for a particular client- drawing from the individual’s precise measurements to create a one-of-a-kind piece that defies the everyday. 1800’s netted lace, reminiscent of corals and textures found in the ocean, create a sultry, feminine silhouette. With soft accents of glass beading, tulle and dyed flower petals these exquisitely elegant dresses are for the romantic at heart.
With Mimi Prober
AGB: Mimi what do you call your designs? Do you regard them as couture?
MP: I refer to my creation process as sustainable couture – each piece is individually handcrafted with hand-sewn couture methods & embroidery techniques. Further, the materials used for the collection pieces are solely sourced from antique textiles [aside from silk tulle, which is used as a base and separate under layer for the gowns].
The recovered antique textiles that are used in each sustainable couture collection piece range in date from the 18th century up to the early 20th century. These materials were mainly handmade from artisans and makers of their previous era, or are fragments of antique materials that have been deconstructed or deteriorated from their original intended form (such as steel beads, which are reclaimed from old beaded bags beyond repair, or the jet beads which are salvaged from 19th century mourning pieces and reused to create intricate shapes and hand applied beading embellishment). These materials not only have an individual intrinsic value – but also share a unique history and story; it is my goal to preserve these elements and carry it into a new and modern light that will continue to be cherished for our current and future generations.
Continued from the sustainable standpoint of the collection, the antique textiles used are typically small fragments that are individually hand-draped to create the design. This enables the result of the finished garment to be constructed using zero-waste techniques. Additionally, any color achieved that was not original to the antique material itself is organically dyed using natural elements through a bundle dye method that provides a stunning use of soft and painterly color within the design.
The overall design vision of the collection is artistically modern with a softly sculptural silhouette incorporating deeply detailed and intricate forms. Complimenting this vision, I have also recently introduced a sustainable fine jewelry collection called ‘Metamorphosed Art’, in which antique sterling silver originating from the same time period as the materials used within the garments (which have also been deteriorated from its original intended form) is developed organically into a modern sculptural form.
AGB: How did you get started?
MP: Fine art and the creative process from many different perspectives and mediums have always been a core part of my ethos and being. I began creating sustainable couture while studying for my BFA at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York – I’ve always had a passion for history and preserving the stories of our past as we progress into the future (I studied with a History of Art Minor), and discovered the unique story and beauty of these forgotten antique materials. For our senior thesis, I began exploring this philosophy further and created the first sustainable couture collection pieces, which received great industry support, press recognition, and won the highly regarded Critic’s Choice award.
As a result, I decided to continue down this path, feeling strongly that now was the best time for this sustainable vision to make an impact, and is a much needed perspective in the continued progress of the fashion industry.
AGB: What’s the process of your garment making?
MP: The creation process is a non-traditional approach that has a strong connection to the fine art realm. The process begins with the discovery of the antique textiles, as they are the materials that tell the true story. Sometimes there will be a sketch of the anticipated silhouette, but since I work directly with the antique textiles that are available, I typically like to begin directly on the form.
Through this signature draping technique, I am able to individually evaluate and apply the antique textiles and their placement – much like creating a sculptural composition.
Each piece is essentially one of a kind due to the antique nature of the materials – however silhouettes can be repeated and similar materials utilized to create multiple pieces from the collection.
After the design is developed the couture sewing and embroidery process begins; hand sewing is vital to the design’s development, allowing for a closeness and control of the artistic medium and the ability to incorporate finely detailed embroidery techniques into the garment.
Each collection is based upon a continuous story and philosophy of the found antique materials, an experimental process utilizing these rare materials with new techniques. The collection is not differentiated by seasons, providing a visual experience to the artistic evolution of the collection itself. A transformative nature with an approach similar to the preservation of a fine art piece, allowing each piece to remain at the forefront, where its story continues to be embraced.
AGB: How is this less commercial way of designing more satisfying for you?
This is definitely a different approach than traditionally found from a more “mass market” fashion industry perspective, as our aesthetic philosophy is sustainably luxury based. Through this philosophy you establish a deep connection to the creation of the garment; it is a labor of love. This vision is to create pieces that are approached from an artistic point of view, that are not only beautiful, but ethical and sustainable – the utilization of antique materials allows for a sustainable approach with a meaningful ability to preserve the story and the artists who came before by bringing them to light in a new and uniquely modern form.