Local fashion label Mahsa’s latest collection, New Bohemia, is in the mood for dancing

Founder of Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland label Mahsa, Mahsa Willis, has spent the past two years working with her team in a single room in a Grey Lynn villa, but not long ago they took over the whole house, joyfully spreading themselves out. Drenched in beautiful light and with a perfectly imperfect wabi-sabi appeal, every room has been assigned a different purpose, and Mahsa and co are in the process of devising an aesthetic for each space. We asked her to tell us more.

MAIN IMAGE Mahsa sits beside New Moon to New Moon by photographer Kate van der Drift from Sanderson gallery. The ceramics on the table include pieces by Elena Renker (the two in the middle) and Margi Nuttall (the vase on the right), and the Akari lamp is by Isamu Noguchi from Public Record. When asked what else is making her feel hopeful these days, Mahsa says, “Meeting kind people, people following their dreams, flow state, collaboration and love.” ABOVE Mid-century pieces from Mr Bigglesworthy feature throughout the villa, like this sideboard. On it are 1947 artworks by Cosmo de Salvo that belonged to Mahsa’s grandma and above it is a photo from Mahsa’s Mood 4 campaign, shot by her friend Derek Henderson. On the left wall are a pair of woven dishes by Ruth Castle from Everyday Needs.

So Mahsa, what’s the day-to-day like here? It’s our central hub, where we work independently and together. The online team is usually here looking after orders and shipping; we host sales meetings and showings, both in person and remotely; we all sit down for team lunches and chat about the latest books and films and current events; customers come in for click-and-collect pick-ups and a catch-up. Post-Covid, it feels profoundly good to all come together again. 

ABOVE Garments from Mood 5, New Bohemia, on a walnut timber rack by Grant Bailey.

Your studio feels a bit like home — how have you made it such a welcoming work environment? It’s very important to me that we can walk in and immediately feel held, inspired and creative. We all love being here, and we love meeting people here too. We’re curating the spaces ourselves, and have lots of inspiration around us. We’ve found that doing things slowly and waiting for the right piece works for us, whether that’s a desk, a chair, a light or art, and things get shuttled between my Titirangi home studio and the workroom too. Like nature, we all need regular change and transformation. 

ABOVE Pottery by Elena Renker.

What speaks to you when you’re selecting décor items? For me, it’s instinctive and visceral. It’s hard to define… I don’t like conformity or being overly prescriptive. I favour organic forms juxtaposed with modernism and enjoy buying in-season blooms and adding this layer of surprise to a space, along with plants by my friend Jasmine Edgar of Sill Life. 

Is that similar to your approach to designing a fashion collection? I approach that instinctively too — I like to feel my way through it. I also like playing with light, texture and tone. Feeling is everything, and good feelings create a good mood. Being in an old villa, our workplace has a real sense of nostalgia to it and I think this relates to my work — ‘old mixed with new’ is a theme I often play with.

You’ve recently released Mahsa’s latest ‘mood’, New Bohemia — what can you tell us about this collection? My fifth mood — in seven years — is a nod to the free-spirited nature of the ’70s, the dawning of new ideas, freedom, a shifting collective philosophy and questioning of the status quo. With everything that’s going on in the world right now, it feels like the right time to question the way we’re living, and to embrace philosophy, good intentions and kindness.
Fashion is swimming in this pool of change and consciousness — we’re responding to this mood. We’ve crafted some new prints and developed a fresh new palette — our signature paisley on a chocolate base. All of our fabrics are recycled deadstock or organic cottons; we’re very conscious of moving our label in a sustainable direction, and we’re doing this one step at a time. Quiet is the new loud. 

ABOVE A mood board at Mahsa HQ.

Who were your muses for this range? Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Angela Walker, Joan Didion — thinkers and creatives. 

Why did the timing feel right to release a new mood now? It’s never right, it just is. Fashion has a precarious cycle and we slow down our calendar as much as we can, but ‘newness’ is a market expectation and we’re responding to this is our own way. Mood 5, New Bohemia, follows on from Mood 4, Enduring Nature, which launched two years ago. 

ABOVE Mahsa and showroom director Sarah Kee (left). Infused with optimism after a long season of retreat and dressing for comfort, New Bohemia heralds the start of a new era, moving us onwards and upwards. “Freedom is a state of mind, one that asks us to make a shift in thinking, as well as a shift in dressing,” says Mahsa. “We feel excited by the prospect of allowing ourselves to run with our feelings again, seeking beauty, pleasure and adventure.”

Reconnection is also a theme for this collection — what’s your favourite way to entertain friends and family at home? Possibly due to my communal upbringing, I like a relaxed atmosphere in an inviting home, with low light, eclectic playlists and lots of corners to sit and chat in. I like to serve simple food — a yummy array of plant-based goodness and raw dessert treats, with cold champagne and non-alcoholic substitutes.

Many of us feel almost as if we’ve forgotten how to get dressed up to go out — how can clothes help us re-engage with life? Yes, I agree, we’re unfurling for sure. I think we start with comfort and ease, and then comes exploration. Colour is an amazing mood-enhancer — we have some bright sky blue, lilac and pink in this mood. Also, our paisley is fun!

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Lula Cucchiara

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