She's Stitching Together Old and New for the Runway
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because her philosophy may just hit home for the average consumer.
By Antonella Crescimbeni and Sophia Akram
From a young age, Mimi Prober’s creativity became quite apparent to her mom. Gail Prober often sat her daughter down with paper and paint, and on one such occasion, she asked her 2-year-old what a painting was about, thinking she saw an abstract ballerina in the child’s rendering. Mimi replied it was about “being the wind.”
Her unusual perspective remains at age 32, as last month her brand was featured in the Fashion for Peace presentation at Spring Studios for New York Fashion Week, showcasing her signature style: incorporating antique fabric into each piece.
Some of those include signed and dated American handwoven coverlets or handmade needle lace from the 19th century. Prober integrates the materials with natural luxury fibers and botanical dyeing methods to create what she calls modern-day heirlooms. And underpinning the whole process is a closed-loop zero-waste philosophy that puts sustainability at the center of her collections.
The environmental impact of the fashion industry is well documented; textile dyeing alone is the second biggest polluter of water globally next to agriculture, according to the United Nations Environmental Program. So one of Prober’s methods includes working with farms to incorporate local luxury wool that she filters into custom textiles using an antique textile fragment — even if the piece is so small it can’t be integrated on its own, she embeds it within the local luxury fiber.
Fast fashion, I don’t think you can really compare it to sustainability. I mean, because it’s not sustainable.
Botanical dyeing is another method she uses, by working with local florists and using flowers they might not be able to sell anymore, giving them new life. Her jewelry line even uses recycled metals and precious stones, some reclaimed from the 19th to early 20th century — an influence from her mother, a gemologist.
Born in Miami, Prober says she took creative inspiration from her whole family. Her father was in the music business, and her grandmother, who came to the U.S. from Morocco, would share her Moroccan treasures with her. She started in fine arts and developed a distinctive style. Gail Prober recalls how one of Mimi’s silk paintings, which was exhibited at the local art museum, featured vibrant and nontraditional colors. “Early on, [she established] her aesthetic.”
Later, she steered away from fine arts, graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York with a degree in fashion design in 2012. It was at FIT that she started developing her signature philosophy, experimenting with using antique textiles and incorporating fragments into her garments. It gave her hope for the world of fashion. “I really didn’t like going and getting yards and yards and yards of fabric,” she says. “And I was actually pretty discouraged at that time with the fashion industry.”
She launched her brand in 2014, and a breakthrough came the next year when fashion PR firm People’s Revolution, an industry stalwart that supports emerging designers, took her on as a client. Soon after, she started forging retail partnerships, including with IF Boutique, a high-end New York store selling avant-garde and handmade pieces alongside the likes of Maison Margiela and Comme Des Garçons. Her collaboration with accessories line From the Road generated pieces sold as exclusives in Barneys New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Then there are the celebrity endorsements — Misty Copeland, Erykah Badu, Rihanna and Alexa Ray Joel have all donned Mimi Prober originals, as did the cast of Broadway show Rocktopia during a limited engagement in 2018. One of her pieces was also acquired for the permanent collection at the Museum at FIT and was shown for the exhibition “Fashion Unraveled.”
Louay Hamie, a fashion writer who contributes to Hood Couture Magazine, says Prober’s mix of old and new could give her longevity, but that doesn’t mean her pieces appeal to the majority. “Everyone [wants] a Chanel bag … but not [everyone] can buy a Jacquemus purse,” for example. Prober’s ethereal designs, Hamie says, “appeal to a specific group.”
And with the vast majority of environmental harm being done by the production of cheaper products, luxury brands like Prober’s, which could cost $1,850 for a draped skirt or $450 for a botanical dye T-shirt, price out the consumers making the biggest impact. “Fast fashion, I don’t think you can really compare it to sustainability. I mean, because it’s not sustainable,” Prober says. She adds that such companies need to reevaluate their business models, while consumers need to be re-educated. Instead of buying that $5 T-shirt, just buy fewer T-shirts and ones that you really love, she suggests, encouraging an approach that avoids buying for the seasons and embraces more vintage and thrift shopping.
Mimi Prober pieces are seasonless and are meant to be kept and built upon, just like you would buy a painting or fine art, progressing a collection, she says in a nod to her artistic upbringing. “I do hope that the pieces have an impact to inspire.”
OZY’s Five Questions With Mimi Prober
- Who’s your favorite fashion designer? I admire many of the traditional textile techniques and craftsmanship/artisans. In terms of a fashion designer — Callot Souers or Paul Poiret are at the top of the list. We should always respect the past when looking toward the future.
- What do you worry about? Leaving the Earth in a better place for our future generations.
- Who are your heroes? My mom!
- What’s on your bucket list? Travel more of the world, connecting with inspiring individuals and cultures.
- What can’t you live without? My family — including my cats!
Read more: Weaving wine bags from leg wraps, Laos reimagines textiles.