Old is cool, less is more, quiet is the new loud.
New Zealand based designer Mahsa Willis is one to draw from her own experiences to infuse authenticity and romance into her eponymous label. Her latest collection titled Enduring Nature launches internationally this week, sent out into the world with courage and made with integrity and patience.
Enduring Nature explores the idea of a very classic, tailored and feminine mood. A nod to pieces of the past with enduring appeal, from sailor collars, relaxed tailoring, trench coats, voluminous sleeves and more. A true vintage feast.
Here, we chat with Willis on her favourite Birkin inspired pieces, her hopeful and pragmatic state of mind, why surrounding herself with nature, books, films and music keeps her motivated and her new campaign shoot lensed by RUSSH friend and photographer Derek Henderson.
Talk us through your latest collection ‘Enduring Nature’...
Enduring Nature is about embracing vintage themes, mixing things up with past collections, your old Cartier wrist watch and making recycling, upcycling and forever fashion pieces desirable. Karla Clarke and I discussed the idea of using old favourite boots, and sandals that look like they are from another time. Not detailing any specific trends. I’m not designing a whole new look, it's an iteration and evolution of what has been, in respect of my previous moods. If we design timeless classic pieces we can live in them for years, and add things for mood if we need to or want if that’s your desire. I also found some wonderful plaid suiting which inspired waistcoats in the vintage vein. I love making the masculine feminine, it seems subversive and current. I dress so many women walking into meetings, I want them to feel they have the inside scoop, they know the score and lead with integrity and grace.
What was your inspiration?
I had just finalised four years of letting go of a past relationship, and managed to forge ahead and rebuild – maintaining my home, looking after my business, myself and my children. I had an overwhelming sense that I might bloom in 2020... but it wasn't as simple as that! An historic and unprecedented pandemic hit the globe – we were all sent home, indoors and our lives were under a microscope (our relationships, our communication and of course our businesses). Once again, I looked to the natural world for inspiration. In our first full lockdown the environment seemed so happy, sunshine every day. It dawned on me that ‘she’ was communicating with real urgency that humanity needed to shift: our life expectations, our behaviour, our financial systems, our democracy.
Arundhati Roy summarised this beautifully.
THE WAY AHEAD - ARUNDHATI ROY
Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
- Arundhati Roy
What are some of your hero pieces?
Our sailor blouse which is Birkin inspired, with an Antipodean pioneering twist. Derek shot Sophie McFadden in a beautiful crafted modern interior – which became the canvas for our mood. Annie Hall inspired waistcoats and suiting for trans-seasonal layering, a voluminous ballet blouse with delicate ties down the back, an enduring gentleman pant perfectly tailored for any season or event, our enduring romantic trench, a ruffle collar blouse, a classic camisole for daily layering and lastly a classic billow sleeve blouse with romantic sleeve and smart collar, cut in our own liberty silk cotton stripe. All very vintage inspired and referring back to prior moods. I wanted to explore the idea of a very classic, tailored yet feminine mood. I also wanted to steer away from trends and push a vintage ethos....old is cool, less is more, quiet is the new loud. To my mind this feels progressive.
How did the collection shoot with Derek Henderson come about?
We were in lockdown and I touched base with DH (who I have previously worked with) - at this time he could not leave AU, and we could not leave NZ with our precious collection.
I also had in my mind that I would like to work with Karla Clarke, who I realised had worked with Derek. The timing seemed right, we all connected, they had room in their schedules, and crucially I felt like I could trust and take the plunge. I knew they both understood the emotion and philosophy of Enduring Nature. Both very skilled and experienced. Derek also found some architecture which we all agreed was the perfect canvas.
How do you stay creative and motivated during this time of global unrest?
I am lucky to be doing something inherently creative and its scale is relatively small. I always surround myself with nature, I have piles of books, films, music, meditation, friends and collaborators that keep me grounded and inspire ideas. Walking in the bush near where I live, or walking on a remote West Auckland beach inspires my creative spirit. I think you have to cultivate your optimism, it's easy to slide into negativity.
What is your current state of mind?
Hopeful, open and pragmatic. One good action leads to another. Karma.
What do you appreciate the most right now?
My work, my children and family, a full pantry and a roof over my head. Living in Aotearoa, New Zealand, is such a blessing.
Our environment and our democracy.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
To live in the present as much as I can. I hope we all shift the way we’re living and the way we determine success. – even just small conscious adjustments in one's daily life. I hope we all look after our planet for our children and their children. I hope global politicians listen to the marching people, and that democracy can withstand the current greed and corruption – November will be a pivotal month. It's a very complex time to be a human being, and a woman. I dream we can all rise to the challenge and evolve to make life more meaningful and sustainable. I go back to Arundati Roy.
Mahsa Label. I hope that we continue to grow slowly and sustainably. Have a local showroom with our own kitchen and a big long dining table. Nurture and empower my team utilising a feminist business model. Have selected stockists globally, who share our philosophy. Keep small so I can enjoy time with my family and friends. As Charles Eames said, “Take your pleasure seriously.”