When you meet Mimi, the designer and owner of La Femme Mimi, a popular Czech fashion label, you see a person who is always smiling, a person who just can‘t wait to share her true passions and someone with an interesting story. We sat for an hour to talk about her past, her present and a little bit about the future. But the most important question of course is: “Where do you get the best Vietnamese spring rolls in Prague?”
It's a long way from Hanoi to Prague. How did you actually end up here?
My story began in 1982. I was 4 years old when mum went to Prague to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. I came to visit her in 1993 when I was 15, initially just for a moment, but I ended up staying. The first few weeks were tough. I began to study at the Charles University but started thinking about clothing and design. I was so tiny that finding something to wear was really hard - I usually have to wear children's sizes and I just got tired of that. I bought clothes second-hand and redesigned them for myself. I started selling my clothes in between the classes, and I finally founded La Femme Mimi in 2007. My first collection was presented at the 2007 designblok, but it took me two years to prepare it. I hoped that the collection would sell out so I could work on other collections, and that’s what happened! I could show my work at the Prague Fashion Weekend and the Vienna Fashion Week, and was invited to Amsterdam for Fashion Week.
I can imagine that your design is not “Asian” enough for Asians, but for Europeans maybe not “European” enough. I'm thinking that maybe this is the reason why your work is so popular.
I like to combine traditional elements of Asian and European heritage. I make wearable pieces. I'm artistic, but I’m not into “artsy fashion”. I want to create timeless pieces. Sometimes we get bored with a piece of clothing but you can take my things after five years and they will still work. It’s important for me to find something beautiful in every woman. I like traditional, deeply rooted things. In Vietnam, everything is colorful: the trees, fruits, the streets, the sea, bananas, the houses. In Europe, the opposite is true - the houses are gray, the streets are gray, a few trees, wide streets and a few people. For me, Asian influence means lots of color and embroidery. When someone says European, I imagine a potato sack tied with a ribbon. I try to put these two in harmony.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I see inspiration everywhere. I notice little details. Music, books, food, people. Everything. The inspiration for my 2015 Spring/Summer collection is the combination of black and white. The story of these two colors is very interesting - each culture uses them differently. Many Arabs wear black because to be protected from evil. For Europeans, black is funerals. In Vietnam, it’s the other way arounds: funerals are all in white, because white is a symbol of peace.
Who of international designers do you follow? Who are your favorite Czech designers?
Everyone - from small brands to H&M or Dior. They’re my mirror, I have to be careful and learn from them. Fashion is a huge industry and probably one of the hardest.
In the Czech Republic it's fairly simple: I mostly fall in love with a particular brand from the beginning and just continue following them afterwards. My favorites include Muset (Pavel and Radana Ivancic), Leeda and LaFormela: a trio of young, creative people who I really enjoy. I love shoes by Eliska Kuchtova. I love Czech jewelry, because I simply must have an authentic jewel in my wardrobe: I love Pavla Vachunova, Nastassia Aleinikava and Zorya. My favorite though is probably Jakub Berdych. I follow his work, I know him and I love all his stuff. At home I have two of his vases and I really want to have Jakub arrange the entire interior of my house (laughs). I like Czech glass, and he's good at that.
Did you try to connect with other designers and create something completely different?
I’m working on something new right now. Helena Heinz makes special soaps that smell amazing, but they have unusual shapes and are mostly black - they look like stones. Together we have created a soap with the scent of ginger and thyme, because I really like chicken with ginger and thyme. We will put the soaps on the market in October. Each soap will also be packed in special La Femme Mimi packaging from leftover materials - so it is fashion recycling as well!
You mentioned chicken with ginger, so let's talk food. Your favorite traditional Vietnamese places? What would you recommend to us?
I live in the Prague 6 district, so I like Kafemat on Dejvicka street. I really like simple spaces that serve great coffee (you should try their cakes by Simply Good, too). I also like the Dole restaurant near Kafemat. I’m also lucky to live near Au-Co: the chef has had many years of experience cooking in Sapa (a large Vietnamese market on the outskirts of Prague). I like to eat at Home Kitchen, the Sisters bistro and Nase Maso butcher shop when I work. I remember when my mom ordered the “chlebiceks”, the famous open-faced sandwiches: I just thought "What?" I thought I would never eat that again. Then I tried the ones at Sisters and I got completely hooked. I always spend lots of money there, because everything they have is great. Nase Maso is simply awesome. Both these places remind me of Mitte, Berlin, and I just think to myself that Prague is really moving in the right direction. Otherwise, for authentic Vietnamese cuisine I suggest Vit Nuong, where I get my favorite roast duck. For the best Vietnamese rolls, I go to Red Hot Chilli in Karlin. I also like to go to Bistro 19 after my bikram yoga classes. And, of course, I need my soy latte at EMA Espresso Bar.
What is your ideal Saturday in the city?
My perfect Saturday is very lazy: we get up late and watch fairy tales with the kids. Then we all head to the Dejvice farmers’ market. We taste different things and buy fresh vegetables, we'll have coffee and go on. I'd love to visit Veletrzni Palac - that's my love for life. I love every single detail of the building - from the windows to the door handles. Then we go for a late lunch at Peperoncino for seafood or spaghetti (preferably in the courtyard inside). After that we take a walk through Letna into the Old Town and walk through Parizska street. We stop for coffee and cake at Cukr Kava Limonada at the Maltezske namesti square, one of my favorites. I would have a break in the afternoon sun on the Kampa Island and feed the swans on the river. I would finish the day in Sansho, which is a place that I really love. Each city should have its little culinary gem, and Sansho is exactly that in Prague. Now, I would be happy if we’d have a Saturday like this twice a month, but usually it's more like twice a year (laughing).
Address: Stepanska 51, 110 00 Prague 1, Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10-20, Sat 11-18, Phone: +420224214106
Interview and Photographs by Lukas Sanek