Shoptalk: Mi Concept in San Francisco

Monday, April 6, 2009

above: Mi showroom in San Francisco
all images courtesy of

It’s difficult to categorize Mi, the new lifestyle line with a showroom in San Francisco and a design studio in Toronto, without experiencing it firsthand. Broadly speaking, it’s a made to measure clothing and accessories line designed by a collective under the loose direction of creative director, Dean Hutchinson, a fashion industry veteran with years of experience running successful retail ventures in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The merchandise and objects themselves are stark, monochromatic and minimalistic—with boldly measured tailoring, whispers of subtle luxury. But Mi is about more than just the objects themselves; it is about something far more ambitious, more “big picture.” Speaking with me over the phone from his design studio in Toronto, Hutchinson went on to describe his vision of Mi, and how it might just grow organically from its local base in San Francisco to other creative communities around the world.

The retail space for Mi (pronounced “my”) opened near downtown San Francisco late last year, but the idea had been brewing for years in the mind of its creative director and founder, Dean Hutchinson. After owning freestanding stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hutchinson says he had reached an inflection point in his career, asking himself whether the next step would include owning a traditional retail business. “I wasn’t too excited about that kind of business anymore,” Hutchinson admits.

The inspiration for Mi began as a result of Hutchinson’s hobby-- reading books about philosophy. “I was intrigued by the concept of attachment and badges of validation,” he recalls. “I found it interesting that we as people have found community based on things, houses, cars and the clothes that we wear. So I wanted to spin that around a little bit.” Mi is about creating a lifestyle line that revolves around its owner. It is about an owner being able to wear a jacket without a label that says Prada, Hutchinson explains, and be able to claim the jacket as his or her own, telling those who inquire about its origins that “it’s ‘Mi’ jacket—it’s mine.”

above: another shot of the San Francisco space

Mi does not adhere to traditional rules of retail, eschewing ideas of “collections,” whether fall or spring. Hutchinson says that the collective produces pieces for the line according to its general creative whims. “If it’s good, it’s good,” he says, regardless of season. “If I’m inspired to do a coat, I’ll just do it… We just do stuff.”

Despite the seemingly amorphous direction of his design team, Hutchinson is serious about tailoring and fit. The quality of fit on garments that women are given, Hutchinson explains, are not on par with what men are given by the fashion industry. “To me that’s crazy,” he says. Circling back to the concept of the personalized garment, fit is an important part of the Mi concept picture, Hutchinson explains.

The space in San Francisco, which functions as a showroom open by appointment, may soon morph into a broader event space, if things evolve in the organic direction that Hutchinson envisions for the future. The whole goal when he started Mi, Hutchinson says, was to create locally based communities, with the idea of expanding into different cities and eventually being able to bring the experience of that local community to other cities. Sort of a Mi on wheels, perhaps?

When asked about the idea of perhaps an online Mi community as part of this “big picture” plan, Hutchinson reflected on the vastness of high tech communities: “We are getting so globalized, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but there’s something beautiful about honing it back down to that little center… reconnecting in the more intimate, personal way that I think we’ve really lost. I may get blown out of the water for it—but I believe that we’re missing that level of relationships right now.” That’s community building, one article of clothing at a time.

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San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 567-8080
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Helen Cox said...

What a wicked idea! I love those coats. I think what they say is right, we do define ourselves very much by what we wear and what we buy so the idea of a personalised clothing line is a really savvy one. Great post as usual, thanks for sharing!

Dream Sequins said...

Helen: Thanks for your comments. This is really such an interesting, abstract and seemingly paradoxical notion: buy these items so that you can free yourself from attachment to your items. Nonetheless-- I found their coats really intriguing and well done. You're paying for quality, not the label.

The Haute-Shopper said...

It's the paradoxical idea that irks me a bit. It's an interesting concept, but I honestly don't see why I should choose 'Mi' over say getting something made-to-measure by a respected tailor (who would be able to personalize your item with your initials or whatever). It's like Dove telling consumers they're beautiful as they are, yet trying to sell them beauty products (that essentially make them more beautiful). I guess I'm a cynic because I know too much about marketing, but I can see this is essentially just another marketing strategy and even the concept of 'no label' is unforunately a type of label (just a not very visible one).

Dream Sequins said...

Haute-Shopper: I hear you on the no-label marketing tactic thing. It's all very abstract and precious, but at the end of the day, you have to recognize that you are selling a product, too. Mi is definitely a work in progress.

♥Jozee said...

While I like that philosophy is his inspiration, people will always attach a cache to a label--even, as it is in this case, when there isn't one! Really, I'm not sure how having unlabeled clothes gives a person his own personality.. I mean even if someone is in head-to-toe Prada, it's the how it's worn that gives the person personality.

Frankly, all my clothes, whether they're from Prada or Forever 21 revolve around me and not the other way around :P

Nonetheless, I do like the clothes!

Lea said...

what a great idea
I've never seen anything like this, but I really really want to, mi on wheels to nyc?

Dream Sequins said...

Jozee: I completely agree with you on the fact that your wardrobe should revolve around you and not the other way around. And I chose to feature Mi because the clothes were really compelling and looked easy to wear, despite the high concept of it all...

Lea: Yeah, I'd love for something like this to come to NYC, actually!

San Francisco Stylephile said...

I'm a bit baffled by the vagueness of this, but I love the concept and the idea of custom tailoring and creation. I can't wait to see how Mi develops! Any idea on price points?

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