A Designer Who Is Unafraid Of Showing Some Skin
From the very first moment that I spotted one of accessory designer Mitchel Primrose’s pieces, a light bulb went off in my head. As the Fashion Director of Viral Fashion it has always been my goal to suss out new and exciting designers to introduce to our readers, so upon seeing a photo of Mitchel’s signature “Spider” cuff and coordinating choker made of glossy black alligator with polished gold hardware I knew that I had found something special. Putting aside the fact that the pieces ticked off many of the boxes in a category we’ll call “personal taste” (I have never met a dangerous or vaguely kinky accessory that I didn’t like. Deal with it.) I instinctively realized that these pieces of jewelry were the type of photogenic, attention-grabbing accessories that can transform a look and really make a photograph. As luck would have it, Viral Fashion was in the early stages of planning one of our photo editorials, which, I decided quite matter-of-factly, was the perfect opportunity to showcase Primrose’s sexy, hard-edged and luxurious designs. After tracking down his company’s contact information, I had the pleasure of speaking directly with the designer himself, which is a rarity in the oftentimes distant and icy fashion world, and I was immediately taken by how friendly, enthusiastic and just-plain-nice he was. Those qualities haven’t changed a bit in the nearly three years since Viral Fashion photographed Mitchel’s pieces for the aforementioned photo editorial.
What has changed, however, is the breadth of Primrose’s product line, which now includes an expanded selection of the pieces on which he’s built his name as well as belts, handbags and – as he revealed in our interview – a forthcoming men’s collection. That sort of growth is no mean feat in the increasingly crowded luxury accessories market, but it’s possible that such expansion is merely a testament to a finely honed vision with which the public can clearly relate. The vision in question, a blend of classical luxury in the form of precious exotic skins and gilded details with a tough, street-ready edge and loads of sex appeal, is one that seems both perfectly suited to today’s trends as well as utterly timeless in its devotion to clean lines and superior quality. It’s no wonder, really, that Primrose’s statement-making pieces have been spotted everywhere from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to The Zoe Report and O Magazine, as well as being worn by stylish women including Anya Ziourova, Brooke Candy and Sharon Stone. I recently had the chance to speak with Mitchel Primrose and found out a bit about what makes him tick, how he’s still touched when he sees his designs featured in magazines and why hats should probably make a comeback
Viral Fashion | Talk us through a day in the life of Mitchel Primrose
Mitchel Primrose | My days tend to vary from one to the next, but since we are still a small company I have to wear many hats. My typical day usually starts with getting up at 7am and taking my dog, Winston, for a walk. He is a standard poodle, just over a year old, so he requires a lot of exercise. After he’s been fed I make breakfast for myself and sit at my desk to check my emails and make my list for the day, I’m always making a list. Afterwards I get ready and have a morning conference call with my sister, Carmen. She’s my business partner and based in Nashville, TN. We talk every day to review what’s on the agenda and our schedules for upcoming productions, new collections, new ideas, etc. Everything gets relayed to the other so we both have full visibility over the company. After I work a few hours at home, often on the public relations and press, I run errands, and then visit our manufacturing facility. I am constantly juggling the operations of design, sourcing, and the production of our products. By late afternoon, I always make time to exercise. As the seasons change, I’m often training for a new athletic event so my workouts change accordingly. Then I’m back home to walk and feed Winston, and then it’s on to cooking dinner. I love to cook and find this part of my day soothing and relaxing – my favorite part of the day. After dinner, I’m back at my desk to tie up any loose ends from earlier, prep for the next day and complete any tasks for other companies I privately consult for.
VF | Where do you begin your design process when you’re working on a piece? How do you find the initial inspiration?
MP | My inspiration comes from so many places; movies, images, art, or even a feeling I want to evoke. I often want to emulate motion/movement or the halting of motion, with my designs. And so much of what I do is based on emotions. I always want to bring out a feeling that I think the customer would experience while wearing my pieces. My design process usually begins with a quick scribble on a post-it. I rarely sketch any details of the jewelry, but I always do with handbags, those are a different process for me. Sometimes, I simply jot down a keyword or emotion so I remember later what I wanted to create. With leather concepts most often I hand carve proto samples from vegetable-tanned cowhide and work three dimensionally. It allows me to physically control the scale and proportion, balance and function to get the pieces right.
VF | If you had to pick one aspect of the creative process as your favorite, what would that be?
MP | I’ve always loved the research aspect of my creative process. I love finding new materials or hardware items. That part really excites me because it’s always the root of a new idea or even a new collection. I always bring ideas back to Carmen, I ask her opinion on everything – she’s my anchor in all this. On a daily basis I send her pictures, sketches, colors and skins. I don’t know how I could do this without her.
VF | Mitchel Primrose designs are especially recognizable thanks to your signature gold hardware. How did the look of your hardware come about?
MP | I first came across our signature stud many years ago while working with belts. I was drawn to the simple, clean, but slightly edgy aesthetic. Traditionally used as a fastener, I was intrigued how it married design and function. I love that our signature stud is both decorative but also functional, as it holds the pieces together and works as the closer. I love how it keeps the pieces uniform 360 degrees around.
VF | Where did your love of accessories start? How did you first begin working on designing jewelry and leather goods?
MP | My love of accessories started around the age of 17. I took a sewing class in high school and really loved making things. Working in 3-D suited my creativity, so I experimented a lot – making t-shirts and simple canvas bags. In college I was obsessed with deconstructing everything, and eventually started playing with bags and belts, always studying how things were made. After several years of working in apparel design, I was given an opportunity to design jewelry and belts for a contemporary line I was working for. It really fast-tracked my knowledge and skill set for working with leather goods.
VF | Your brand is well known for its use of very precious skins like alligator, lizard and python among others, all of which are mainstays in the luxury accessories market, but the designs all have a very cool, tough, “downtown” feel to them. Was it a conscious decision to take something very classic and make it appeal to a younger, more edgy clientele?
MP | To be honest, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s just my aesthetic. It all started in creating a capsule of cuffs and a few chokers several years ago, and now it’s grown into the line you see today. I did say in the beginning, I want something very luxe but also very wearable. I didn’t want any stitching or other details to make them feel contrived or too stuffy. I made the original four samples all completely by hand as a gift for my mother. It was until she wore them and a friend asked her if they were Hèrmes, that I knew I had touched on something really special and something that I could build on.
VF | For Spring 2015 you’ve launched what you’re calling your Foundation
Collection, which comprises signature pieces like your Spider cuff as well
as some new additions. Tell us a bit more about this new direction you’re taking.
MP | Our new Foundation Collection is really just the first layer in building, what we are calling a permanent collection. Carmen and I talk daily, and sometimes endlessly! As we bounced ideas back and forth, we began to really look at what we had done for past seasons in a relatively short amount of time. We then realized that it seemed unnecessary to wipe the slate clean each season only to begin again. We saw a trend in colors that gained editorial faster, and those directly corresponded to what our customers were buying the most. We felt there needed to be a “foundation” put in place to build our house on, so to speak. Our philosophy is, there is nothing worse than purchasing something only to find a few short months later that the color is out of season, out of style, or worse yet, on sale. We want our customers to feel confident when they invest in a Mitchel Primrose piece, and that confidence is rooted in the fact that our colors and styles are not expendable – they are truly forever pieces.
VF | How do you select the different skins/colors/finishes/etc that you use to create your designs? Is it a gut instinct or based solely on how your eye reacts to something, or is there more to it than that?
MP | In the past is has been a gut instinct, and being on-trend after making gut instinct choices has been quite rewarding, I must say. Now, as we have a few seasons behind us, we look mostly at what colors have performed and possible places we are missing certain colors. As we move into the installation of permanent colors within our collection, we discuss much more about which hue works best in each skin we want to offer. We feel it is the way the skin texture and color combine to make each piece special.
VF | It’s well known that many designers have one area of a design that becomes a particular fixation for them that they are always striving to perfect. For Chanel it was the armholes of her tweed jackets, while Saint Laurent honed the line of his shoulder. Is there one particular feature of your jewelry or accessories that receives the most attention or requires the most work?
MP | For me, it is the quality and the finishing. It’s those precious details that make our pieces undeniably luxurious. We continue to make strides each season. From our incredibly supple lambskin linings to the signature laser engraved gold studs on each piece; we are always finding new details to increase the quality and ensure its life-long durability for each customer.
VF | Do you find it important to be able to interact and connect with your customers directly?
MP | Oh yes, I do find it very important and very gratifying. Honestly, I do prefer my sister to be with me when we do trunk shows or special events though. I feel that since we are a team, she really helps center me because I can get quite shy and nervous around customers as well as industry people. Carmen works more with our direct sales and gives me an immense amount of feedback as to what is happening in that world. I also find it important to hear feedback from everyone who supports our brand, from customer to editors. I like to know the nuances of how each pieces fits or wears differently depending on the person. And because we are mostly sold online I’m always looking to see how customers are wearing their MP pieces when they appear on social media. We’re really focusing on building our reach with social media, and we’ll be doing some really cool things to with that going forward, so make sure to hashtag any pictures of our pieces with #mitchelprimrose!
VF | If you could single out one thing that you’d love to see come back into fashion/style what would that be?
MP | I would have to say hats. Aside from the fact that I love to make them, I think hats add such an amazing touch to a woman’s wardrobe, or a man’s for that matter. I’m really in love with film noir and any movie with Joan Crawford, and seeing the styles and how a wardrobe came together then is so fascinating for me. It was so chic, and it always involved a hat!
VF | What has been or continues to be the greatest challenge in establishing your brand? Have there been any obstacles that you’ve had to face?
MP | The greatest challenge by far has been brand awareness. My sister and I grew up in Nashville, TN. So we weren’t “born into the industry” so to speak. The only fashion industry connections I have are simply from building my career, here in Los Angeles. So to gain brand support and feel that belief from people nationwide has definitely been an obstacle for us. Fashion editors have been the most supportive and amazing group of people to work with though. It continues to be so epic for me when we are featured in magazines or other publications because we aren’t leaning on any personal relationships or connections to get there, we are featured because they believe in our product, and for me that is really touching.
VF | Who are some people who have influenced your work?
MP | Growing up in the south, my Grandmother, Mother, and Sister were always so well dressed and always put together. The hair was always on point — my mother was a hair stylist after all. The women in my family really shaped my ideas of beauty and glamour. My Great Aunt Joan was always a fixation of mine. For as long as I can remember I’ve never seen her without everything perfectly in place. If Ari is to ever do an Advanced Style for southern ladies, she is your cover girl! My sister and I both have such a fascination with glamorous women of a certain age. I’ll also never forget my 8th Grade English teacher, with her flaming red bob and the most elegant mannerisms. Combine that early influence with the Gianni Versace fashion shows I would watch as a teen and I knew it was the type of world I wanted to be in. Gianni was the epitome of a fashion designer, and truly showed me what a world of opportunity there was out there. I did everything I could to see and read about how he created Versace. It was one of the most pivotal moments of my life, when I truly knew what I wanted to become. Still to this day, if I travel to a new city, I have to go visit the Versace store that’s there.
VF | Is there anything that you think people might be surprised to find out about you?
MP | Surprised? I’m not sure, but I do have other passions – if you follow my personal Instagram (@mitchelprimrose) you can see that I’m passionate about fitness and very athletic. I love to train and really challenge myself physically and mentally. I participate in cycling rides, triathalons, mud runs, and marathons all throughout the year. It’s really fun, not to mention good for you, and it’s completely unrelated to fashion.
VF | In addition to luxury leather goods is there anything else that you could see yourself designing?
MP | I have a lot of ideas and integrations I can see layering into the line. Our most immediate addition will be a men’s exclusive collection. We have so many men that shop the line currently, as many of the cuffs were conceived to be unisex, but we want to create a dedicated offering exclusive to our male customers. This will include special colors, skins, finishes, and hardware. We plan to launch with our initial men’s offering this summer and grow that category into belts and bags over time.
VF | Are you ever fully satisfied with the work that you’ve created?
MP | The pieces that create the collection today are truly the best of the best. So many sketches, ideas, and proto-samples do not ever make it past the design stage. I guess you could say there is a lot left on my cutting room floor – so if a piece makes it all the way to production and is available to my customer, it has truly been honed to near perfection. So I am very satisfied with that.
VF | If you had to choose one aspect of your job that is the most rewarding what would that be?
MP | I’m beyond passionate about my work and the pieces I create. There isn’t an editorial feature we’ve gotten that hasn’t brought tears to my eyes. I am very emotionally attached to my work and get very touched when I see someone wearing our pieces, or open a magazine to see an editorial feature. It’s incredible to see it because it is a part of me. There isn’t a single piece that exists that I have not personally assembled or helped to physically fabricate. When I see a piece on a customer it’s like my child has grown up and is now living a life of its own. I couldn’t be more proud or more satisfied.
VF | Lastly, what can we look forward to from Mitchel Primrose going forward?
MP | Well, I’m very excited for the upcoming launch of our new website. It will integrate content with our new shopping experience. We are also planning to launch the Men’s Capsule over the summer, but as a whole we will continue to layer onto our Foundation Collection and install new groups of colors and skins that will live forever. We have several of these groups planned, which I’m very excited for. Our handbag range will continue to expand, along with our small leather goods, and belts. We also plan to focus on handbags that are entirely exotic and provide a special segment in our product assortment. I view this place we are carving out for our line as a form of precious leather goods, so most of all I want to continue to hone this niche for my label.
– Justin Friedman