Vietnamese designer bucks tradition with a splash of color
Walking into Mimi Lan’s Prague 1 shop, La Femme Mimi, you wouldn’t guess she’s a wedding dress designer. Full of color and whimsical features, the shop is bursting with creative blouses, skirts and dresses, along with handbags and a great selection of jewelry. Meeting the energetic and diminutive Lan is like getting an infusion of enthusiasm.
“Every bride wants to be in white, but I think it’s time to change that and make it more modern,” she said. “We try to show them different materials [like] brocade – it’s good for them to see different options.”
Her shop carries her personal line, but she also has a blue brocade wedding dress prototype that she often uses to introduce potential clients to something new.
The short, simple dress is vaguely Asian in look and definitely not something you often see worn down the aisle. Lan is currently designing a similar dress for a lawyer in pink brocade.
Lan says it’s a different type of bride that she usually sees, one who’s a bit older and professional. She also finds she’s been designing more dresses for pregnant brides. She doesn’t make any white wedding dresses, believing the color is too steeped in tradition. Champagne or ivory are often used, and always silk, because as she says, “It’s sad to wear polyester on your wedding day.” Floral dresses have been gaining popularity as well; Lan said she made about three last year.
Kateřina Pojerová is getting married July 31, and her La Femme Mimi dress is nearing completion. It’s a short ivory piece with a 1940s neckline that gathers behind her head in a bow. The bow’s ties drop below the dress’ hem, and the tips are a multihued pattern of different materials, adding a fun splash to the simple strapless dress. “That’s our signature,” Lan says. It’s a great idea, since people normally spend the wedding ceremony staring at the happy couple’s backs, anyway.
Pojerová had begun shopping for a dress in typical wedding salons but was horrified by the styles and prices.
“I knew Mimi’s shop, and on her Web site I saw that she designed wedding dresses,” she said. “I wanted Mimi. I already had an idea, knew what fit me and what I wanted. I wanted something original, not a princess white dress.” She adds that her dress can actually be worn after the wedding, as a cocktail dress or for other functions.
You won’t find “off the rack” customer service at La Femme Mimi, either. Lan spends time with her clients, asking lots of questions at the beginning to get to know them and, as the process goes along, advising on hair, makeup, shoes and jewelry. She and Pojerová discussed the possibility of different hair pieces, as well as what type of necklace would look best with the dress’s neckline.
Lan says there are definite differences between designing wedding dresses and designing clothes for her standard collection.
“When we design a collection, it takes four to five months, and we don’t know if people will like the shirt or not. It’s a gamble and not so personal,” she said. “It’s my personality, but wedding dresses are more intimate, the feeling is like every dress is our child – I completely remember every one.”
Originally from Vietnam, Lan came to visit her mother a few years after the Velvet Revolution. She’d only planned to stay six months or at the most one year, but 16 years later, she’s still here.
“It’s my hometown now, for sure. My job is here, I met my husband here, had kids, built a life,” she said. She also has a shop in Amsterdam.
Lan has some advice for brides thinking about having a tailor-made dress. First, the process takes about two months, and you should take your time. “Decide what you like and how you naturally feel,” she said. “Many brides are confused, [thinking] ‘I should be different,’ but be yourself in your own special way. Keep it natural and harmonized.”
Lan applies the philosophy of “Be yourself in your own special way,” to her work as well, saying the unique challenge of designing each wedding dress is what she likes best about her craft. “It’s not my design; it’s her design,” she said. “It’s not a dress for me, but her. I want to make her imagination a reality.”