It all started with the perfect fit
Whilst the quarter-life crisis hits other millennials, Alexia Elkaim is powering through. It’s now almost a year since the 25-year-old set up Miaou (pronounced meow like a Parisian cat and inspired by her childhood nickname) and the brand is growing from strength to strength.
Frustrated with the lack of cool ready-to-wear denim options for women who aren’t the standard sample size, she started sketching and cutting patterns; creating the perfect pair of jeans. The first pair inspired by Jean-Paul Gaultier jeans discovered back in 2000 in a high-end Parisian thrift shop proved, unlike the originals, flattering and empowering. Having nailed the perfect fit on her friends, Alexia realized she had found her gap in the market and Miaou was born.
Miaou’s inimitable style – a mid-rise, straight-leg denim (sourced from Japan) with grommets at the waist and customizable belt – has expanded into nearly ten different cuts and shapes, all guaranteed to flatter. The most recent campaign features Paris’ Gucci Gang modeling the collection in a video that Alexia shot with Travis Scott, and everyone from Bella and Gigi Hadid to Lady Gaga has been spotted in her designs. As effortlessly cool as she is contentious, Alexia is not only inspired by but is the woman she designs for.
COOLS: So you’re from Paris, grew up in LA and now live in New York – what do these cities mean to you?
Alexia Elkaim: I lived in Paris until I was five and then I moved to LA until I was 18 and I have lived in New York since then. I think New York is a place where I literally hustle, it’s incredibly stimulating and everything is so connected here. New York to me represents really hard work and making things happen. As an artist I take different things from different cities. LA is like my hometown; my mom lives there and it’s a very comfortable. I think it is also inspiring me in different ways, there is a lot more space [than in NY] and the weather is nicer. I guess LA is where it starts, I make the products in LA and then I turn it out and I push it in New York and Paris is more of a fantasy. The idea of Paris is amazing and it is an incredibly glamorous city to me, but I don’t know if I could live there. There is so much of me that is French but ultimately my work ethic and my day-to-day is definitely American.
COOLS: How did you fall into fashion?
AE: Flea markets; I actually started vintage shopping every Sunday from age 13 until the moment I graduated high school. In LA, I went to the same flea market every weekend: the Melrose flea market. I’ve only actually been to Rose Bowl once. Every weekend, I’d go with 100 bucks and come back with six sick dresses or whatever, so I guess that’s where it started. I have some really crazy stuff.
COOLS: Take me through how you started your brand?
AE: Throughout school, I was working on the publication Arena and the editorial world. I was an intern CR and I interned at V Magazine, but I was taking initiative. My thing was always culture, fashion and music. Then I graduated and started doing casting for an agency called Starworks. I was doing Calvin Klein castings, LOVE Magazine covers. It was incredibly interesting to meet different people and meet so many [new] people. I dealt with publicists every day and it wasn’t easy, but in between my lunch breaks I would go to Midtown and work on a pattern or something. I guess from the moment I started I knew I was going to do my own thing but it really [began] organically that way – whenever I had time – and then it started taking up the time I would spend at the office and then eventually I realized I had to just do it.
I took photos throughout high school and college and that’s what I brought to the table when I was interning. Then one weekend I asked a few of my friends to try on these jeans I had made. There were my friends Laura [Love], Atlanta [de Cadenet Taylor], Carlotta [Kohl], this girl Gray [Sorrenti] (who I thought was just incredibly beautiful). They all look super different, their bodies are super different, but I was like these jeans will fit everyone. I shot all four or five of these girls, and each girl on a backdrop of a different color and I created a different vibe. Then the story got picked up for Vogue and I put it on a Shopify site and sold like five, then I’d sold 10, then 20 and I realized I had a product which was moving. I quit my job in August and I’ve been doing it ever since.
COOLS: So finding the perfect fit inspired you, but now that you have it and the collection is blowing up, what else inspires you?
AE: I have to wear all hats – I’m more than just a designer, I’m a business woman, marketing, the CMO, the CFO the TOO – so although designing is a big part of my brand I have to also think creatively how I can scale. For example, how can I use a pattern and make it so I can change the belts and I can make it in different colors and I think it’s about function, so I guess the business aspects inspire me. I hate it and I love it; it’s incredibly challenging for me to own a business being a creative person but the challenges inspire me and push me every day. It’s really hard. I really like to be challenged and suffer through things…
COOLS: Social media plays a huge role in your branding; did you always plan on it being that way?
AE: I mean, yeah, my language is super visual. I shoot my own content so for me it’s the only way I know how to show people and explain things to people because I’m always behind-the-scenes art directing or whatever it is.
COOLS: In the imagery you are creating of the company, what do you want to resonate?
AE: Confident, sexy, inclusive – because the way I design is that you can wear one pair of jeans 70 different ways based on the belt you wear it with it. For me it’s functional and inclusive. There is a Miaou girl in everyone, you can be any age, you can be any size – it’s accommodating and a generous size range for a ready-to-wear brand.
COOLS: How does personal style fall into your design process?
AE: Something I’ve learned growing up with French women is that you can wear one thing in so many different ways. In my opinion a French woman has a really nice bag and whenever she wears it, it always looks different. I very much grew up that way with staples, so I guess my approach with design is adapting that philosophy. The collections I make are really seasonless.
COOLS: How do the women in your life shape what you do?
AE: I’m definitely very inspired by the women in my life. I think my brand is like a sponge; I take different things from different people. Take my friend Zoe, she’s incredibly pragmatic, I love just sitting down with her and having these concrete conversations where she gives me amazing advice. I look up to my friends and my family and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m extremely grateful for the women in my life.
COOLS: How does that play into your design process? Do you have a muse?
AE: I don’t design and think, ‘Bella Hadid is going to love these.’ I guess I really just make things for myself, point blank. I would never design something I wouldn’t wear because I don’t think that’s honest. Can I be my own muse?
COOLS: How do art, music and culture feed into your work?
AE: I think everything happens for a reason and I’ve worked in music and I’ve worked in fashion so I think that you can’t just close a door from a past life but you have to use your experience and build your future. I really want to keep working with people I’ve met along the road and I think that there are always opportunities to collaborate and sometimes they’re not conventional. I think it is important to kind of disrupt the industry. Maybe it’s about showing a collection in a music video, maybe it’s about doing a music video instead of a fashion show and then you have a screening – those are things that people don’t really do and that are good ideas. But why go to fashion show when you can go to a concert? That’s what people need; they don’t need like a 25-piece collection. It’s not really about the clothes anymore, people need experiences and freshness, people are thirsty and looking for new things all the time.
COOLS: A lot of people are looking to young designers to affect change in the industry, how are you doing that?
AE: Just by being honest. I try not to think too much about how this will impact – I mean I do try and be socially conscious – but I’m not going to go out of my way to prove a point. There really has to be integrity in there. As a person, I’m open-minded and I have friends from all different walks of life and I’ve been like that my whole life. I think that you can see that a little bit in my brand because of the girls I choose and the message that I send. That’s not me consciously thinking I’m going to be inclusive, it just organically happened that way because it’s who I am.