Sentimental, sensual, and so, so silky, Mirror Palais is the small up-and-comer behind the silhouettes that have perfected the art of subdued sex appeal. You’ve already seen the infamous and well-adored Underwire Polo on supermodel Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa made a star out of the Collared Cropped Shirt in her music video for the 80s-inspired dance-pop track “Break My Heart.” In latest news, J.Lo herself showed out in The Halter in her newest visual collaboration with Columbian artist Maluma, dressing it down with a pair of olive military-style cargos. Ladies love it.
Even for those non-fashion enthusiasts out there who perhaps came across the brand’s designs for the first time during an innocent digital scroll of their Instagram feed, the vintage and sophisticated shapes paired with Mirror Palais’ careful, sustainable production makes the pieces impossible to ignore. Their swim collection also carries a subtle and distinctive nostalgia, with the design of the pieces being inspired by not-quite-forgotten memories of hot Rio beaches, mothers before they were mothers. From lush sweetheart necklines and sexy silk slips to thigh high-slits and ultra-chic blazers, each piece expresses a true love for the feminine. They carry an air of romance, too, evoking a need for candlelit dinners and walks along orange Spanish coastlines. Bubbling champagne, a ride on the back of a stranger’s Vespa, and even morning sunshine — it all holds the aura of Mirror Palais.
“My goal is to make clothes that make women feel good,” Marcelo Gaia, the brand’s founder, shares over the phone from where he was quarantining at a safe, secluded beachside mid-lockdown. NBGA had the chance to connect with Marcelo and discuss everything from the inception of his brand, the importance of asserting your boundaries as a creative, and even the impact that the many ongoing global crises have on our ability to dream for the future in the same way that we used to.
WHAT WAS THE INCEPTION OF YOUR LOVE FOR DESIGN?
I’ve always lived in the fashion realm. I was a really creative kid. In school, my best class was art class. I didn’t really know why I loved women’s clothing so much but I would always draw very feminine things. Because my grades in high school had been so bad — I never went to class — I couldn’t get into any art schools. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I was interested in fashion. My mom ended up saying, “Let’s put you in a program.” She is very into education and having a marketable skill and being independent and self-sufficient. So, she put me in that program. I was pretty uninspired. No offence to them, it was the environment that was lacking in energy. I think when you go to a true design school, you have people around you who are competitive and focused and you can really get inspired by watching them. I didn’t really have that environment in school. After that, I ended up styling for eight years. That’s what I thought my career was going to be, I totally fell into it. I didn’t start designing until my best friend at the time asked me if I would like to start a fashion brand with her and I said yes. We had that company for two years, it was super successful. When we parted ways, that’s when I started Mirror Palais.
PRIOR TO YOUR FRIEND COMING IN WITH THIS IDEA TO START A BRAND TOGETHER, DID YOU THINK THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN FOR YOU?
What she offered that I didn’t have was a financial backing and the confidence, to say, Hey, I think we have something worth people taking notice of. The idea of my ideas being worth people’s money was not something that I played around with much. I didn’t have that confidence. Confidence came later as a product of the process. I was raised by my mom, a Brazilian immigrant, in a single parent household. I didn’t know that this could even be a potential life for me. I thought I was going to be a celebrity stylist at most, but I ended up taking a left turn somewhere, and I’m much happier doing this. Anything is possible, it shouldn’t matter where you come from, but the path looks differently depending on your starting position. These industries favor people who have a certain amount of wealth already. Without a $5,000 credit limit then you can’t just go to Sak’s or any high-end store just to buy things and then return it after a photo shoot. Those are things that are not acceptable to people who come from low income. I just hit a wall in that space. It’s so funny though, because people see me and the brand and feel like it just came out of nowhere. They ask, “How did you do this so fast?” I kind of laugh, thinking about the first ten years I spent in this industry. At least on my end, it certainly wasn’t fast to get here.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?
I try to follow the lines of the body. I want my clothes to be flattering. I’ve been so inspired by the women in my life, the women I see in films. I take note of the shapes that they gravitate towards. I also try to think of comfort and versatility. It’s kind of a Leo thing, but I’m interested in making special pieces. I like to wear things that make me stand out. It doesn’t have to be covered in glitter but it should be well thought-out. That’s the goal of the way I design. I want to create pieces that will make people stop you and ask, Wow, where did you get that? I want to make you shine, I want to excite you. When I put something on and I love it, I lighten up. That’s the kind of feeling I’m chasing when I design. That doesn’t happen usually until the end like when we’re adding the finishing touches but that’s my philosophy — I’m trying to create something that will make women feel excited to get dressed in the morning. That’s why I haven’t really done any basics yet. I’m having too much fun with this.
WHO OR WHAT OR WHERE IS YOUR MUSE?
My muse is someone who sees themselves and their world as a work of art. I love everyone, but what excites me the most is when I see people who intuitively understand the kind of world I live in, the kind of world I see my clothes living in. Certain people can really sense and interpret that. You don’t have to be on the beach. You can be in your bedroom, looking out the window, having appreciation for nature and for all of the beauty that the world has to offer. My muse is the person who can see the beauty in those small details. The light coming into your bathroom in the morning, the way your fresh sheets look on your bed. There are so many things that make life pretty gorgeous. And these things are everywhere but sometimes we forget to notice. I’m inspired by the people who stop to see those things. I think they’re the people who truly understand what it is that I’m doing that I’m trying to do.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE PERSONAL STYLE?
I think we all know like style can’t be bought, per say. Style comes from knowing yourself. Your body, your colors. Having a good sense of who you are is the first step. The way I experience it, personal style comes from a desire to distinguish myself from everyone else. I think the people who I think have the best style are the people who don’t blend in. it doesn’t mean that they have to be wearing neon colors or be super garish. It’s nothing of the sort. Good style comes from the detail. It’s in the subtlety of the way you dress, the way you talk through your clothes. If you don’t know who you are then you don’t know what you’re talking about. I see style as something very personal and intuitive. When you’re fully aware of yourself, you’re able to participate in the conversation. You know what you’re trying to put out there in the world. If not, that’s when you feel anxious and you’re looking around like, “Did I wear this shoe the right way?” I think that if anything, when you don’t know yourself and you do end up having this crazy style, you end up looking back like, “What was I even trying to say?” You can’t recognize yourself.
I LOVE THAT ANSWER. YOU CREATE PIECES THAT ARE ELEGANT, SENSUAL, AND NOSTALGIC AT TIMES. WHAT DO YOU WISH FOR WOMEN TO FEEL WHEN THEY WEAR MIRROR PALAIS?
Comfortable, sexy, confident. Strong. Like a star. I always want to feel like a star when I’m at my best and I want to share that feeling with people, that feeling of shining, and being in your element. I want women to feel comfortable and special. I think for a good designer the goal is to create something that is effortless. That is an overused word — I wouldn’t exactly say, “I only want to create effortless clothing,” but I want to give you that experience of comfort. I also want everyone who wears Mirror Palais to feel free to tell their own story when they put the clothes on and resonate with the pieces in a way that is organic. Sometimes a brand can try to imprint its consciousness or its message onto you but I’m okay with the clothes just being a vehicle for your own self-expression. I don’t want people to feel like walking billboard advertisements for Mirror Palais, I just want them to feel like themselves with my touch.
DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE AURA IN THREE WORDS.
Definitely nostalgic. 100% nostalgic. Bold. Hopefully warm.
YOUR PIECES DEFINITELY FEEL AFFECTIONATE. THEY REMIND ME OF WHEN I WAS IN ITALY. I WAS VERY AFFECTIONATE IN THAT COUNTRY.
I love that word. Affectionate. I feel like when you’re thinking affectionately, it puts you in this gorgeous mental space. You want to go on a date or just be around your close friends and be open to life. So, yes. Nostalgic, bold, and affectionate.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL SUPERPOWER?
I LOVE HOW QUICKLY YOU SAID THAT.
I’m proud to say that I can empathize but it’s something that you always have to work on. It has a sunny side: people love it, people are comfortable around me. People tell me things all the time that they wouldn’t necessarily tell other people. Then, there is a darker side, which is that empaths attract a lot of narcissistic personalities. Narcissists are my kryptonite. The tendency to empathize with people and understand their perspective doesn’t actually end up well when you’re speaking with someone who is expecting you to put work in but they’re not working on themselves.
YOU FEEL OBLIGATED AND WANT TO WORK THROUGH THINGS AT THE EXPENSE OF YOUR ENERGY. YOU DEFINITELY BECOME A MAGNET FOR A LOT OF TURBULENCE.
Absolutely. I think every person who is overly empathetic shouldn’t stop, you shouldn’t turn off that part of yourself — it’s such a beautiful, human thing to have. It’s about learning who is deserving and communicating your boundaries. Everyone needs boundaries. The people who are the most coveted need to set the most boundaries. It’s so easy to give in to this sense of obligation in terms of giving people access to your energy whenever they want it, but no truly valuable relationship would ever be contingent on you being available to people 24/7. That’s not real. That’s someone who doesn’t value how important your time is.
I FEEL LIKE THIS AWARENESS USUALLY COMES FROM YOUR HIGHER SELF. NO ONE EVER COMES DOWN TO GIVE YOU THE WISDOM OR THE PERCEPTION THAT YOU NEED.
I wish it happened like that. I wish we would talk about it, I wish it was a dynamic that people talked about more. It’s only when I’m looking for answers or Googling key phrases about what’s going on — for my own sanity — that’s when I find it. But as far as popular media or stories or social media goes, I just haven’t really seen anybody delving into this phenomenon about people who give and people who take and how far that dynamic can really go in terms of toxicity.
I FEEL LIKE THERE IS PROBABLY A HUGE PRESENCE OF THAT DYNAMIC IN THE PERSONAL LIVES OF A LOT OF ARTISTS.
Even in terms of professional relationships, you know what I mean? There is a broader conversation that needs to be had about what the expectations are for people who are creative and the tendency that they have to be drained. Of their energy, of their vision. For example, copying is something that really interests me because the conversation is just not happening. There are a lot of artists and creatives doing the damn thing, paving the way, and coming up with really interesting ways to express themselves and then people really bite off of that vision and there is a sort of resignation involved. I think there is a correlation between all of that.
COPYING IS STRANGE. IT’S THE OPPOSITE OF CREATION. IT JUST SHOWS THAT YOU’RE NOT REALLY IN IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.
It’s very empty. It’s funny that you brought that up. It’s such a valid point and it should be on the forefront of the conversation. It’s almost beyond comprehension. Whenever I’m inspired by someone, I’m the first person to say, “Hey, I saw what you were wearing the other day. I’m coming over, don’t be surprised when you see me in a similar outfit.” I call myself out. I’m inspired by so many of my friends and I always feel so much better when I’m upfront with people. I can’t lie. I’m happy giving credit where it’s due.
I LOVE THE WAY YOU THINK. WHAT’S COOKING UP NEXT FOR MIRROR PALAIS IN THE MANIFESTATION REALM?
Bigger sizing is something that I’ve already started working on and developing. The regular rules of grading — add two inches here, add two inches there — no longer serve the purpose of making it versatile for someone of a larger size to wear. The shape that the garment may have started out at when it was made for a size 4 doesn’t work in the same way when worn by a woman who is size 14. Unless the body weight is distributed very similarly, which does happen, but sometimes it doesn’t and then you’re left with a piece that fails to flatter. I would like to develop what I’m making already for larger sizes. I want to do it carefully, so that the cut and intention behind the design is not lost.
I THINK YOU’D ALSO BE GREAT DOING A MATERNITY LINE. YOUR CLOTHES HAVE THIS ABILITY TO COMPLIMENT AND NURTURE THE FEMININITY OF A PREGNANT WOMEN.
I would love to do that. I’m not trying to expand into a place where I’m just making all of this stuff. If it’s intentional and careful, I’m so open to it. I’m doing what I love to do. I know that some brands want to be the next Ralph Lauren and expand on a massive, massive scale. I don’t know if that’s really what I want to do. It’s hard to think about growth while also trying to be very cognizant of where our planet is going and what is happening as far as consumption. I think it’s easy sometimes to point the finger at other people and blame them for the things that are not right within society, so to speak, but I try to think about what I can do, or positively impact, from where I’m at.
THAT’S VERY RESPONSIBLE. VERY SELF-AWARE.
Life is so complex. One day you’re like, I want to live off the grid. Then the next day, you want to be on a yacht. It’s hard to reconcile sometimes. It’s unfortunate but much of what we understand of the American dream is contingent on how much we can exploit the earth and its resources. There is a very real and pressing time limit on how much longer we can afford to live like that. We’re in a time where it can feel hard to dream. There is some fog around ambition, for good reason, but that’s where my apprehension comes from. As a small brand, I haven’t had to think about too much yet because I’m not consuming or producing huge amounts at this point. As I grow, I know that’s going to change. My bikinis sell out so fast and I’m so blessed but I also know that means I’ll need more fabric. If I want to order more fabric, I need to use more dye. If I use more dye, I’m creating more pollution with the dye. This is why I’m always getting a little existential. I want to grow but I never want to be one of those people who you look at and you’re like, “You’re so filthy. You’re just taking advantage of the earth.” You wake up one day and you’re one of those people. People liked your ideas and you created that success, but what’s the price of that success?
IF MIRROR PALAIS COULD DRESS THE CHARACTERS IN ANY FILM, WHICH FILM WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?
It would be a TV show. It would definitely be Sailor Moon.
THAT’S SO INTERESTING. WHY?
Because they are fun loving girls who are fighting for love and justice and beauty and they have great legs. They look so great. It would be so much fun. That would be my dream, I love them so much. They’re like my heroines. I watched the Japanese version in middle school — it’s like slightly more sophisticated than what was made for consumption in North America. I love the art and the heart of the story and the energy that those characters have.
THANK YOU, MARCELO!
Nyouma Tacheboubet photographed by Sarah Feingold for NBGA. Styling – Jennifer Abey MUA – Sarah Feingold Special thanks to Yassine Rahal & Natalie Stein