Creating dynamic and expressive designs for women, Mahsa Willis is not one to follow conventional trends. Locally designed and produced, stocked in Simon James Store with collections released every few years in moods rather than seasons, Mahsa epitomises slow fashion. We caught up with designer Mahsa Willis to chat about her label’s journey and latest mood, Enduring Nature.
N. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the fashion industry and how Mahsa was established?
Mahsa Willis. I worked for a fashion designer and retailer – Scotties/Marilyn Sainty throughout my university degree and when I travelled in Europe – at Van Ravenstein in Amsterdam. I then embarked on a career in advertising for a decade, stopping when I had children due to the required schedule. Fashion was always in the background of my self-expression. I dabbled with some styling which I enjoyed but it didn’t feel creative enough for me, I felt like I was on a leash. When my son went to school, I decided to start a small brand. I met with a pattern maker and we conceived my first collection in 2015, ‘Beautiful Imperfection’, and the rest they say, is history.
N. You describe Mahsa as an “evolving reflection of beauty and imperfection in life”, which is such a beautiful mantra that speaks volumes to women. How does this inspire your design process?
M. I think life is challenging and beautiful with equal measure, clothes should play a part in uplifting one’s mood. I felt the
need to tell a very authentic story, historically fashion presents a rather idealist aesthetic, especially in older women who know themselves well and have real needs in terms of fashion and utility.
N. Being made in New Zealand is something to be extremely proud of but must also be rather challenging at times in order to maintain a sustainable and locally sourced brand. What drives you to uphold this approach?
M. We are a small brand so it’s easier to keep our footprint light. It is the only way our business will flourish and be relevant going into the next decade. Local love!
N. Your collections are presented in different “Moods” existing outside of seasonal boundaries which steer away from the unsustainable nature of mainstream fashion. Could you explain the concept behind these moods?
M. When I started I was very much focused on having pieces that would last forever, more of a sartorial, romantic wardrobe that would enhance your daily life both emotionally and practically. My first mood ‘Beautiful Imperfection’ related to imperfection in life and how it can be seen in a very beautiful way. Pieces from that collection seemed to resonate and have lasting appeal, thus I recut and refined and remade…so the mood philosophy was born. Often you release a mood and it needs time to live, breathe and be understood. One season doesn’t allow enough time for this, before you know it it’s on sale and there’s another season – a vacuous cycle which I find exhausting.
N. The muse in Mahsa’s 4th mood, Enduring Nature, contemplates the lessons which the natural world teaches her in the comfort of her home. Was this inspired at all by lockdown, and if so, how?
M. Yes, totally, I was reflecting on the natural world and during lockdown she seemed profoundly beautiful – resplendent. I also noticed how families and people around me seemed to be living in a more present way, less rushing and juggling and a lot of good will and togetherness. Enduring Nature felt like a good metaphor.
N. Simon James Store is one of Mahsa’s limited stockists, also housing a curated range of locally and internationally sourced designers. How did this partnership come about?
M. Simon James Store came to me when I first launched after I sent them some imagery, we connected and realised we shared the same values and vision. I have always been a fan of their edit, design and lifestyle focus. It’s been a fruitful partnership and I always love walking into their stores and seeing such timeless products.
N. What are some of your favourite brands stocked at Simon James?
M. Aesop, Sophie Buhai, Martino Gamper, Margi Nuttal, Hasami Porcelain
N. What have you been reading and listening to lately?
M. TheGuardian,RBG autobiography, CNN, RNZ. Listening to an eclectic collection of music…. Chet Baker, Alan Power, Nadia Reid, Marlon Williams… I’m a romantic! Leonard Cohen on my birthday this year.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, what will we find you doing?
M . Drinking coffee, with children: negotiating their days and if not children: avocado on toast, yoga, sleeping, reading and hopefully surfing when it gets warmer and I have more time.
N.What is next for Mahsa?
M. Watch this space, enduring in a very conscious, mindful way – people and planet.