Often jewelry is considered a finishing touch, the last thing you put on to complete an outfit. After all, accessories are, by definition, something more. But designer Mimi So knows that jewelry has the power to dialogue with clothes and elevate them to a whole other space. Superstars (like Beyoncé and Mariah Carey), hit TV productions (including sex and the city and the recent And just like that… reboot), and famous stylists rely on his expertise for more than two decades to build images with his ornaments in precious metals and gemstones. Her designs are not glittering reflections but essential elements of the overall effect of a look.
To realize the full potential of So’s statement pieces, you need look no further than an episode of sex and the city. Shortly before the world knew about Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda, in the late 90s, So met the now beloved characters as the wardrobe came together for the SATC serial pilot. There were no major brands attached to the program, and so soon after striking out on her own, So was tapped to create jewelry looks for the four archetypes that would have a seismic impact on pop culture for women. decades to come.
“My jewelry really worked for this ensemble,” So recalls. “Because the way I work, I really design more for the spirit of the woman. My pieces have personal stories and distinctive looks. I design from the inside out. Samantha had more meaning with the graphic piece collection So’s geometric shapes; Carrie would wear more playful items, like a starfish ring; delicate, feminine, floral jewelry suits Charlotte; Miranda opted for more refined, conservative items, thus adding a layer of understated storytelling but instrumental to a show that revered fashion and would become known for the eclectic styles of its characters.
A project like SATC was the perfect fit for So’s expressive jewelry, and one that benefited from her carefully considered approach to styling. When she got the call to come back for And just like that… she brought the same eye to the characters’ personalities while fashioning their jewelry more than a decade later. “There are definitely changes, they are more mature now,” the (now slightly smaller) group of friends note in 2022.”[I focused on] maintain the soul of their characters, kind of just, you know, grow it a little bit.
As a third-generation jeweler, So was not new to the craft when she started her eponymous business in 1998. She had grown up in her parents’ downtown workshop, helping out as needed to do her bit. for the family business. But after finishing her studies in graphic design at Parsons, she had a stronger sense of her own artistic voice. The recent graduate held various design positions and worked in her family’s boutique for a short time before deciding that if she wanted to hone her skills and really discover her style as a designer, she should do it on her own. .
“I’m glad I took the path I took because that’s why my work has my imprint, my aesthetic,” says So. “People could see it and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s Mimi.'” Stepping away from the family business to follow your dreams was exhilarating and terrifying. Full creative control thrilled her, but of course running her own shop came with all the challenges of being a small shop owner and an artist new to the scene. “When you’re the youngest and you’re rebellious, you’re always trying to prove yourself,” she says. “You know you are falling deeply in love when you invest your own money and resources in your work.”
Thus developed a style of design centered around a properly executed game. Her jewelry is bewitching as shimmering gemstones often are, but what sets them apart is the personality imbued in her work. A Mimi So accessory will always be a key piece, but it does not necessarily scream to make itself known; not always extremely flashy, but still fun. “Even though it can be graphic and personalized, there will be a little note of whimsy,” she says. “There is a boldness behind it, but all in balance with the aesthetic. Some things we can’t take too seriously. I think if we are going to be in the jewelry business, we have to give joy.
So brings a creative director’s sensibility to the task of creating a look, informed by the “old-fashioned” way of having clothes made: a more bespoke method that included client input in everything from choice of fabrics to discussing the idea of the look, rather than just picking pieces off the rack. This type of collaborative process has earned her a lot of work with stylists who seek her talents to complete ensembles for their clients. So sat in her shop across from stars like Lil’ Kim, sketching ideas as they weighed in. For the designer, this kind of teamwork makes all the difference. Clients get So’s undivided attention in building their vision and end up going home with unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry. “This is true luxury,” she says.
So’s whimsical pieces first caught the attention of stylists of rising hip-hop stars, such as Ashanti, Eve and Destiny’s Child, around the turn of the millennium. She noticed a tendency for designers to turn their backs on budding talent, deemed not yet established enough to be worthy of their precious gems. What legacy fine jewelry brands considered non-departures or not enough, therefore considered opportunities.
“What I’m really proud of is that I really supported a lot of artists when they were coming up,” the creator says, noting that even some of the most promising young talents in the music industry had no not the “certain type of look” that top jewelry companies would consider collaborating. For So, however, that was part of the appeal. “Because I grew up in New York and believe in melting- pot, and because I love music and fashion, I was in the [thick] all of this,” she said. “For me, it was about the excitement of supporting another artist and that’s why it felt so organic. I was the go-to girl for that audience, like a bridge between music and fashion.
As we sit in her SoHo boutique, the designer reminisces about the kindness of Beyoncé and recalls the laid-back comedic spirit of Mariah Carey. Despite his iconic status and deep-pocketed clientele, So carefully selected his projects even as an emerging business owner and sometimes turned down A-listers if the work didn’t quite fit his own style. authentic. This was the case once with rapper Busta Rhymes when he and his team approached So for a super icy eagle design. “[He] was totally cool, but I just knew that wasn’t my forte,” she says of the proposed piece. “I really wanted to stay true to my art and what I would like to do, what I know represents me.”
Of course, working with such prestigious clients comes with its own set of challenges. “[The projects are] always at the very last minute,” says So. “It’s expensive; it’s labor-intensive. Still, she admits, the end result is almost always worth it. “You really get on an adrenaline rush, but it’s very magical because that confidence is there,” she continues. “Knowing that a customer felt like a million dollars is really special for someone like me who is a creator. And of course, after parties are always the best.
Dressing celebrities to be seen by the world and designing jewelry with which customers commemorate some of life’s greatest moments is work, of course. And competing as a small business among the goliaths of the luxury jewelry industry makes it a particularly demanding business. But it’s ultimately something So also considers a privilege.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “My name is on their engagement ring, their wedding band, something they look at every day. It’s heavy, in a way. I have this privilege. That’s why I want to give my best so much. -even, because I really understand this exchange, what it means and what it justifies.
It’s this kind of care that turns customers into repeat customers. There’s a reason Jay-Z decided he’d need duplicates of So’s pieces (“He liked the locket for his Vibe magazine cover and said it was her lucky charm! He was afraid of losing one and wanted to have two. “) and that the team of SATC reached out to the creator years after the show’s finale to bring her back on board for And just like that… She has invested herself in her work beyond a simple piece that she forges and finishes – So is committed to the long term. She has built lasting, collaborative relationships with her clients and built a business that continues to survive alongside industry heavyweights on a fraction of their resources.
“Longevity matters,” So says. “It’s an accomplishment in itself.”
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