Carry-on into the moment
"I travel and fashion are inseparable. I wouldn't say that I'm in the fashion business necessarily. I try to design travel companions."
Seasons change and trends come and go, but real style lasts a lifetime. Michelle Lai, founder of travel-inspired brand MISCHA that has taken the world by storm, has found such a claim to be true. Bringing together her passions for family, fashion, and travel, it seems only natural that MISCHA would resonate with customers around the world – the brand’s signature hexagonal prints are an easily identifiable trademark. Lai shares her essential travel accessories, moments of inspiration, and more…
Could you talk about the inspiration behind your first collection?
It seems like ancient history now! Growing up, I've always been interested in clothing and textiles. My grandmother was a talented seamstress who made us beautifully tailored cloaks and dresses. She was always impeccably dressed in matching shoes, gloves and handbags, so I guess that's where I got my sense of fashion from. As a young adult being obsessed with Japanese textiles, I started collecting vintage obi and kimonos. One year, I cut up an obi to make a matching handbag for a wedding I was going to. The more people saw them, the more they asked for them.
I hand-sewed my first collection of forty obi clutch bags and launched them at a fair in 2004. Over the next four years, I would put together one collection a year, flying to Japan to source materials. I had built a relationship with second hand kimono dealers, and would hunt down pieces in antique markets, while working full time. Weekend red-eye flights became my specialty!
How did you come to adopt your trademark hexagonal print?
I wanted to create something that would differentiate me in the sea of new fashion brands. Taking inspiration from European heritage brands and my love for traditional Japanese artistry, I decided that I had to create an iconic monogram for MISCHA. I referenced my archive of obi for ideas. I had not noticed it before, but the repeated hexagon motif was found throughout my archive. The hexagon represents the sea tortoise shell and symbolises longevity. It's a sentiment which I hold close and adopt as both a core value and hallmark of my designs.
What led to the decision to create the travel series of bags and accessories?
Did I mentioned the inspiring, savvy, active and demanding woman I design for?! They were buying clutches from me for every occasion but also wanted something for their daily lives. They are well traveled and style savvy, mixing high-street with designer. They were so tired of the monogrammed neverfulls that were everywhere. I also wanted the same thing; something that travels well, a wardrobe essential and something that incorporates Asian design aesthetics in a Western style.
How intertwined are the worlds of fashion and travel to you?
I think they're inseparable. I wouldn't say that I'm in the fashion business necessarily. I try to design travel companions.
Your designs are heavily inspired by your travels. How frequently do you go back to the sources of inspiration?
Though we can find inspiration in daily life, I believe that when we are traveling, when we remove our daily blinkers, that is when inspiration seizes us. Traveling also helps to relax me as an entrepreneur. We design two collections a year, so I try to get away for two big trips, and every other month for a little refresher.
What are your travel essentials - is there one item, in particular, you will always have in your carry-on?
I think I've only travelled with my own designs since I started designing. I always have my music, a good book, a camera and my journal.
Other than textiles, do you collect objects from your travels?
I love to collect home objects; everything for the kitchen and dining table, soft furnishings like cushions and throws, containers like baskets and trays. Perhaps we will start a home collection soon! I also love to buy jewellery from local designers.
You have a unique background. Has this influenced the way you think about travelling?
I think I grew up like a lot of third culture kids, who grew up with friends and family from all around the world. They call many places home and are comfortable in different cultures that aren't necessarily their own. Traveling isn't just about ticking destinations off your bucket list, it is also revisiting places and building relationships over time, so that the world becomes your home.