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Designing Lives: Mimi So

Designer-to-the-stars credits her success to a third-generation jewelry pedigree and a passion for art.

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WHEN SPEAKING OF JEWELRY, Mimi So compares it to storytelling: It is her way of transforming her memories, inspiration, travels and culture into a versatile collection that today’s busy woman can throw on and wear. Her style ranges from fluid floral shapes to concentric forms, and she captures both motifs with a femininity that transcends trends but is imbued with a fashion-inspired edge.

IN THE BEGINNING: “I’ve loved jewelry ever since I was a little girl. I would go into my late mother’s dresser and try on the heirloom pieces that were gifted to her as a young bride, passed down from her mother and mother-in-law. I just didn’t realize that my addiction would be so expensive, and to this day I cannot kick it!”

MULTI-GENERATION HISTORY: “I was born into the third generation of a family of jewelers, and I grew up surrounded by the sparkle of amazing stones. My grandfather worked a lot with 24K yellow gold, the most beautiful green and lavender jade, and pearls. My mother would bring me to work and I became my mother’s sidekick and little helper. I was 8 and tremendously shy, so I was given busy work to keep me out of everyone’s hair. In my teens, I was promoted to be the runner or the coffee girl. I made great tips and thought I was in business and an entrepreneur by 12.”

ARTISTIC LESSONS: “My passion for art is also deeprooted, from my childhood through graduating from Parsons School of Design. I was drawn into the world of fashion because Parsons is recognized for having some of the most amazing designer graduates. This gave me the foundation to merge the two worlds I admire deeply together into the art of my jewelry design.”

COMPANY LAUNCH: “I launched the Mimi So wholesale brand in 2000. Prior to that, I had a small retail boutique that I started right out of college, learning every aspect of the business and making custom bespoke pieces. Those were the learning curve years, when I was trying to balance a checkbook and pay rent. But we had the unbelievable opportunity to work with costume designer Patricia Field to provide jewelry for the cast of Sex and The City, and it was so much fun, getting the looks right for each of the four characters. The ability to work on this trendsetting show created a following for me because our jewelry was recognized as being ‘fashion forward.’ Now we are dressing the Gossip Girl cast!”

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DESIGNING WOMEN: “The woman I design for is very much like me. I live a hectic life, shuffling from place to place like birthday parties with my kids, business meetings and traveling constantly, always rushing to throw on a cocktail dress. I just do not have the ability to be switching my jewelry around three times. With that said, I need to wear something that is durable, versatile and stylish … and, pieces that make me feel happy when I have them on.”

EXPRESSIVE FORM: “A woman’s jewelry is her second skin. It allows us to express who we are as individuals — loud or quiet, bold or delicate, simple or colorful, bright or soft. It allows us to express ourselves comfortably, just as men have their toys (cars) and technological devices to express themselves.” Inspirational Material “I am forever being inspired by my surroundings, whether I’m connected with the person I am in conversation with or the great architecture of the country I am visiting at the moment. I’m inspired by my love for life and the people I meet in this world.”

EVOLUTION: “My work has been a capsule of my personal life, each collection inspired by my travel or a special moment I recognized. It acts as my journal. My early collection, Anzia, was a delicate floral design, then The Piece collection became my signature for the concentric squares, which symbolized the frame of the window I looked out as a little girl living in New York City. It represents the past, present and future. This is the collection most worn by celebrities like Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon and Rihanna.”

Q&A: GETTING PERSONAL WITH MIMI SO

What is your favorite piece of jewelry to wear?

“Like a child with a new toy, I always love a piece from my newest collection. But then, I go back to my oldies, like my stackable classic bangles, which I’ve worn for 16 years because they are 18K gold and they have this wonderful sound when they clink together.”

What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever designed?
“One I designed for a friend featuring an amazing neon fuchsia pink tourmaline, 56 carats, from the African mine which no longer produces this material. We set the cushion cut in a surrounding trail of flawless diamonds in a microscopic setting underneath.”

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What would you do If you could have another career?
“I can’t think of any. This has always been my dream and passion and I live it every day and feel blessed.”

Any hobbies you’d like to tell us about?
“I love to cook! That’s actually the only time I am not thinking about jewelry because I have to focus so much on what’s in front of me or I will burn the meal!”

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Beth Bernstein is a published author of three books and jewelry and fashion expert with 18+ years experience. A broad knowledge of the history of jewelry and fashion coupled with a background in "the story", writing, trends, design concepts has earned Beth a proven track record.

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