Inspiration out of Africa

Inspiration out of Africa

Ghanaian-born fashion designer arrives to mentor the city's next generation of sartorial talent

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Students (from left) Lin Chia-jo, Jenny Chu and Tiffany Chan with fashion mentor Mimi Plange.
Students (from left) Lin Chia-jo, Jenny Chu and Tiffany Chan with fashion mentor Mimi Plange.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
When Ghanaian-American fashion designer Mimi Plange heard that United States First Lady, Michelle Obama, had worn one of her creations on US talk show The View, she was overwhelmed. "It's a huge honour. I have a lot of respect for Michelle Obama," says Plange. "She is very supportive of new designers."

Now the New York-based 34-year-old, who moved from Ghana to the US West coast with her parents when she was five, has brought her unique style to inspire and support local students at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Sham Shui Po.

A rising star known for her signature fusion of Victorian aesthetics and African heritage influences, Plange was named International Emerging Designer of the Year by the group Africa Fashion International last year.

As a teenager, she dreamed of being a fashion designer, but on her mother's advice, she pursued an architecture degree at the University of California, Berkeley, instead. But that, she says, turned out to be useful in her dream career. "There are many things I've learned that are relevant to fashion and design, like aesthetics and symmetry," she says.

In 2001, she obtained a fashion design degree from San Francisco's Institute of Design and Merchandising, and soon started working for sportswear brands in New York. Having worked towards fulfilling her dream for 11 years, she finally felt ready to create her own brand, and in 2008, Plange launched Boudoir D'huitres, changing the brand name to her own in 2010. Today her designs sell in boutiques in North America, Belgium and the Middle East.

Plange has a definite idea of who she's designing for.

"She's a beautiful woman who presents herself as she is. She is someone who's elegant, confident and smart, and not afraid to stand out by wearing fashionable clothes."

The designer says she is grateful for her success but still wants to "learn more and do better".

She is also keen to give back by nurturing the future generation of designers, which is why she came to Hong Kong, signing up as a mentor to students on SCAD's new fashion programme. "Her story is inspiring," says 19-year-old Tiffany Chan Wing-tung, who is studying fashion marketing and management at the school. "She helps us realise the fashion industry isn't as glamorous as we think and there is a lot of hard work behind it."

Jenny Chu Yan-yi, 19, adds: "She told us how, at the beginning, everyone has to do the things he or she doesn't want to do, like sitting in front of the computer working on repetitive designs all day. But you will learn through even the smallest steps. That was some good, real-life advice."

"I like her idea that beauty is confidence," says 20-year-old Lin Chia-jo . "I also believe we look the most attractive when we feel comfortable about ourselves, rather than just wearing expensive clothes," she adds.

In a world where so many young people aspire to be designers, Plange's message to the students is about finding themselves.

"Have a strong passion and belief in your craft. Find the look which means a lot to you and create your signature style."

Plange's Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, Scarred Perfection, is on display until November 30 at the Moot Gallery, at SCAD in Sham Shui Po.

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