A collection of warehouses in a hidden suburb of Dubai are perhaps the only corner of the city I could describe as ‘edgy’. It was here that I met Mimi Shakhashir, the self proclaimed ‘schizophrenic designer’ behind the hippy-esque couture label Kaleidoscope. Surveying her vibrant 1001 nights style pop-up, housed in a contemporary art gallery, I instantly fell in love with both the designs and the woman herself. Rails of glittering clothes surrounded a pile of cushions and trinkets, meticulously collected from her travels whilst sparkling accesories hung like jewelled icicles from painted neon branches.
Needless to say, I was immediately plunged into total sensory overdrive. Dubai, despite it’s seemingly cold exterior of luxury and conspicuous consumption, afforded me more warmth and gracious interactions than I could have ever imagined. Meeting Mimi was no exception. Born in Lebanon and raised in Paris, Mimi studied at ESMOD (École Supérieure Des Arts et Techniques de la Mode) before completing a stint at Chelsea Art School in London. It was here that Mimi cultivated her love of textiles and design, feeling closely connected to the prints and craftsmanship of exotic, far-flung societies. Kaleidoscope not only honours this passion, it’s also a reflection of the multicultural aspect of Dubai and her desire to make a difference to the infinitely talented but impoverished artisans of her favourite places. She’s also an advocate of everything glamourous and chic.
I chatted to Mimi for ages and could have stayed all night. Her presence is supreme, with all the vivacity and charisma one could expect from a woman whose ethical and creative vision exceeds anything you’ve ever encountered. She’s beautiful too – and cool. She radiated elegance in her slouchy embellished trousers, an array of ethnic jewels and hypnotic, peacock-blue lined, brown eyes that looked at you honestly and sincerely.
Mimi works with various charity organisations around the world to encourage the use of traditional skills in marketable products. Amidst the Aladdin’s cave of texture and colour were clutch bags (above) and laptop cases embroidered by the children of one of her collaborators. This for me is perhaps the most endearing and inspiring aspect of Mimi’s ethos because she is insistent it should be a given in any respectable fashion house. I interviewed her in the hope I might spread the word. It is rare to come across such an irresistible melange of style and timelessness shrouded in such consideration and good will. I only hope I can show my support in return for the warmth and kindness Mimi has shown me.
What’s in a name?
I have always been fascinated by the kaleidoscope, how by a small movement everything changes inside! just like my designs, i could find a traditional fabric and use it for a cushion then decide to make trousers out of it therefore shifting it into new form and function
How was your business conceived?
Through the need for products that were not easy to find, love for textiles and handmade products.
What makes Kaleidoscope unique?
Its how we mix things and fabrics that makes it special. Sort of like a secret recipe, filled with special spices, love and soul!
Who is the woman you have in mind when you’re designing?
The on-the-go woman with style, who wants to show off their personality rather than the price tag. She’s effortlessly glamorous and elegant.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Anything from a movie to a beautiful trip to art and of course, my children.
How key is an ethical approach to your designs?
I don’t like to market my self as an ethical fashion brand as I believe it is only normal these days that products are created and produced with consideration to the environmental and social impact. Fashion can be ethical in so many ways and I believe every little helps! I source locally made materials from my travels as much as I can. I refuse to use factories and mass produce in china for example…I want this brand to make a difference, no matter how small. All my tailors have families and communities linked to them and I know that every payment is going to enhance lives, educate their children and eventually make a difference to their community.
I try to design things that are desirable to consumers in luxury domains. I know now from my experience, through my friends and social encounters that an eco story gives the consumer that pleasure of making a difference to the planet with less guilt on spending on just plain old luxuries.
Of all the places you’ve ever visited, where has influenced you most profoundly?
So many but living in the UAE was the catalyst that brought it all to life. Being surrounded by such a diverse community, in a country that perfectly embraces modernity while holding on to tradition is so inspiring but living on the silk route helped too! I also felt extremely enriched after my trips to India, Morocco and Turkey.
Describe your personal style?
*GLOHO* – Glam-Boho
What makes a woman beautiful?
Confidence and not being afraid to show her unique personality.