We sat down with Miaou's founder, Alexia Elkaim, to discuss the LA-based label's love of vintage, its tight-knit approach to community and designing product that makes its wearers feel good.
For Miaou’s founder, Alexia Elkaim, the creation of clothing falls under the umbrella of a broader aim: to make its wearers feel good. Since founding the brand in 2016, a community spirit has been deeply entrenched in the Miaou outlook; after all, the brand’s debut product, a pair of its now fan-favourite jeans, was initially created for Alexia Elkaim and her friends to wear, enjoy and feel their best while doing so.
So, my background is in fashion, so I kind of had an idea of how the process works. It was self-taught in a lot of ways, but I grew up around designers and in design rooms, so I kind of understood the idea and the overall process of how garments are made. I’m stubborn and I wanted to do it on my own — to make mistakes on my own. I remember how it happened, when I spoke to my friend who was a production manager — we actually went to a music festival together one year — and I was telling him about the ideas I had and he said he would send me some fabrics. I was living in New York at the time and he had access to all these denim mills, so he gave me like 15-20 yards of a washed denim fabric. I then went to something called a one stop shop, which is a factory that does everything from pattern making and cutting to sewing and packing. I would go on my lunch breaks because I was working in an agency assisting a casting director at the time. It was a really lovely one stop shop — they taught me a lot of things and walked me through everything, it all felt very personal and I learnt a lot. Did I ever envision it would manifest into the brand it is? Yeah, I did, or at least I hoped. It’s a lot of work, anyone who has a clothing line will tell you it isn’t easy, so you’d hope for some kind of return from all of the energy spent.
My mission, both personally and professionally, is to make people feel good, or as good as clothes make me feel. With that in mind, people are such an integral part of that equation for me. I have a lot of amazing and talented people surrounding me, who have really supported me and my vision and help me understand a lot of the things that I have been making and really validate why I do what I do. There’s really nothing more rewarding than seeing your friends feeling good in the clothing that you make. Ultimately, that’s what support is — they’re supporting me and I feel like I’m supporting them. Specifically with Paloma, for example, we grew up together and we’ve known each other for over 15 years, so I would see first hand the pain points of the things she would experience in the marketplace. Even before I made extended sizes, she was always between the larger sizes that I would make, but I was stoked to be able to create product that fit her and it really pushed me to drive the conversation further and eventually collaborate with her.
"My mission, both personally and professionally, is to make people feel good, or as good as clothes make me feel."
My relationship with vintage is a long love story. I started shopping for vintage when I was, I want to say, like 13, I would take public transportation — which in LA is very intense — to Fairfax high school where there’s a flea market. I would go every Sunday and walk up and down Melrose Avenue and all of the vintage stores, which at the time I thought were so cool. My love and passion for it comes down to me being quite a romantic person — anything historical feels special to me and I just love hearing stories and finding a vintage piece. That kind of special feeling is what I use to approach my designs — creating pieces that have that same novelty feeling — which are maybe things that didn’t exist in the marketplace at the time, or things that are reminiscent of another era. I think it was really sparking that feeling of finding a gem, the sense of this is mine and nobody else has it.
I’m the fit model, kind of. Less now, because the brand is bigger, but things are essentially based on me and how I feel in the clothes. If I stray too far away from things that don’t make me feel good, typically the thing doesn’t work. I really do feel like it’s an extension of me. I am pretty curvy, I’m small but I’m curvy — I have hips, I have a butt, these are all things I was pretty insecure about when I was growing up, because at the time it wasn’t a trend, there wasn’t the whole Kim Kardashian thing. I feel like it’s a win if I feel good, so I kind of reimagine that. There’s always going to be modifications I make for different body types now that we do have extended sizing. So, we work with bigger size fit models, so there’s always going to be modifications that consider different shapes. So yeah, me being a fit model helped, and being around women everyday helps — I have a lot of people around me and I’m very much a collaborator, so a lot of people get drawn into the process with me. I think this goes back to the idea of community, which is something that happens internally as well.
At first, it wasn’t intended to be punk, it was intended to give off a dystopian vibe. I was inspired by the idea of severity, I guess. Also, designing with the intention of doing a fashion show really changed the process for me, in that I really had to wardrobe an outfit. Typically, I designed pieces, like novel pieces as I previously explained. With regard to punk, like why not? I think the Miaou girl loves to dress up and play in characters, and this season that was punk — maybe next season it won’t be. I think it’s all about irreverence, and punk can be very irreverent for obvious reasons.
It feels good, it feels rewarding. We all work really, really hard here so I feel proud of my team and myself. In the film “A Star is Born”, there’s a coming-of-age scene where Lady Gaga is singing on stage and wearing Miaou pants. I didn’t know she was wearing them prior to watching the film — I was just at the movies with some friends and when I saw it I began hysterically crying. It’s in those moments where I’m so proud.
It’s a good question, I think thrifting. Before I design a collection, I take a vintage trip where I’ll go to Paris, London or LA and I’ll find things or inspiration for moments, and I’ll put them together to show my designers and we then pull out themes. I’m also looking at hundreds of books at the same time to get inspiration. I think there’s such a thing as a collective conscious, where everyone is looking at different things all the time but somehow trends happen. What I do know is that where I find my inspiration always starts with vintage and then things happen organically. I’m not really looking at what other brands are doing — maybe that’s to a fault — but I’m not religiously looking at other contemporary brands.
I always preface by saying that it’s a tricky conversation to have in the fashion space, as ultimately sustainable fashion looks like not making clothes. I do want to acknowledge that, as I’m also not trying to greenwash or say I’m 100% sustainable. Every aspect of the production supply chain has a sustainable element – we use deadstock fabric, we use milling fabrics to an absolute minimum and our latex is made using natural materials. We try to deliver really high-quality garments that stay in your closet forever, as I ultimately think that’s the most sustainable thing you can do. In addition to that, every Earth Day we try to do something. This year, I’m not making clothes, but what I am doing is bringing out some of my personal collection of vintage that I’ve collected over the last ten years. So we’re going to be launching that. We were just going through it yesterday and I’m going to miss some of those pieces. We do that often, I think it’s important to let go of some those pieces and they can find a new home. I think there’s a lot of pressure today with Instagram to be always making new things – I feel guilty of that, too, it feels almost like survival to constantly move the machine.