Close Encounters | Mimco’s Cathryn Wills

By Sophia McMeekin
15th Jul 2015

We’ve partnered with MINI to bring you our Close Encounters series—a glimpse into the lives and inspirations behind some of Australia’s leading creative influencers.

For our first installment we had the pleasure of meeting Cathryn Wills, the creative mind behind Iconic Australian label, MIMCO, at her home in Melbourne’s Brunswick East. 

As MIMCO’s Managing and Creative Director, Cathryn’s unique style and creative vision has had a far reaching influence on the Australian accessories landscape—who hasn’t owned a MIMCO bag at some point in their life?—permeating our culture and helping shape a generation’s style. 

No stranger to the power of personal style, Cathryn’s diverse influencers—she cites Tilda Swinton, Alber Elbaz, Toni Maticevski, Tim Walker, Tim Burton, Iris Apfel, and Daenerys Targaryen as favourites—make for an eclectic and always evolving combination that has helped solidify the MIMCO brand as one of our most loved.

We follow Cathryn as she shares her creative process, her love of Melbourne, and her definition of style.

What's does style mean to you?

"Style, in my mind, is influenced by proportion, colour, pattern, form, and the balance that these things strike to ones’ eye. Style is also confidence—I know what I like and what I don’t like and this comfort gets more settled the older I get. In terms of how it manifests, I like to think it shows in the home I share with John and in how I present myself. I favour a relaxed look with an element of glamour in there. A touch of lipstick and a little sparkle of jewellery can go a long way!

There are so many stylish women I admire—Tilda Swinton, Iris Apfel, Maggie Gyllenhal, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Lorde… and I can't forget Daenerys Targaryen!

At MIMCO, we use an eclectic and statement-making approach to accessories. We love raw materials and mixing surprising combinations. Experimentation is a key part of the process, and this means working with the piece: cutting it up, soldering new bits on to it, and playing with the accessory in 3D. Sometimes mistakes are a beautiful thing and they bring success where you might not have expected it. The industry has become very one dimensional with computers, and I believe we have to interact with the product and feel good wearing it, for our woman to relate to it. We must want to wear it, carry it and love it. If it doesn’t satisfy this criteria, it doesn’t make it.  

My role at MIMCO is varied and means interaction with our entire team, which I love. I enjoy brainstorming sessions with the team, building strategy for the future, the creative process of range conceptualisation, and working on our seasonal photographic campaigns.  

I enjoy the diversity of my days, the challenge of fitting it all in, and the pleasure that occurs when we have a great season and we can celebrate as a team.

Our initial design meeting for the forward season starts with a concept and a story, and ends in a fleshed out range plan. We have a hodge-podge pile of vintage bits and pieces—a crusty old leather handbag, a broken piece of jewellery, a silk handkerchief that has a beautiful embroidery or print on it and a pile of inspirational images. Pushing our team to start the design process with blank sheets of paper and the whiff of inspiration from vintage pieces or photographs that have had a rich life is, to my mind, artistry. The MIMCO business is a large concern now, yet the process has remained creative, organic, and focused on bringing fresh ideas to life.

Quality is also extremely important to me when it comes to my designs, and my life in general, really. Collectability is essential and one can’t collect a loved piece if it falls apart within a couple of months."

When do you feel you're at your most creative?

"Creativity for me is about freedom. Being able to think laterally, make things, draw, write, communicate freely and honestly and create something that inspires me and, hopefully, those around me.

I feel creative most of the time, but I’m at my creative best when I’m relaxed and focused on bringing to life an idea that has resonated—I think long and hard about ideas, and when the ‘right’ one hits home, it’s a satisfying feeling. Our team inspire me as they have so many ideas and are all working to one goal; collaboration. When it gels, it’s a powerful thing. Art, books & cinema take me to another place, and I love the feeling of escape they offer and the combination of concepts that pop up—often when I’m not in work mode. I make long lists of notes, always, and they get pulled out when I need some inspiration. 

I draw inspiration from many people—my family, my partner, and my friends. Stylistically, and in the fashion realm, I’m inspired by uber-talented people who remain humble, independent and true to their vision.  Alber Elbaz, Toni Maticevski, Inez & Vinoodh, Tim Walker, and Tim Burton are just some. I have long admired Del Kathryn Bartons’ paintings, Lara Merretts’ work is beautiful and Samantha Evertons’ escapist photographic images are stunning… I find inspiration in so many places.

I’ve been fortunate to have had several mentors over the years. I didn’t identify them as mentors at the time, but I think this is typical—for me, a mentor occurs organically and it’s a harmony that can’t be forced. I feel lucky to have had individuals who have had my back and supported me through steep learning curves over the years!

For those starting out it’s important to learn your craft—everything from materials, to research, construction and engineering), you need to tap into your true creative spirit―in an increasingly homogenised retail landscape, it's ideas and innovation that will set you apart―and aim to work with like-minded people as they will inspire you and push you further."


"I love the look of MINI—it’s nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, which is no mean feat.

Back in 2010, I needed a new car and had been eyeing off MINIs for some time and decided to take the plunge. It’s a breeze to park, has great power, and is my little bubble of comfort when I’m driving with the music up and the sunroof open. I love the heated seats, the sound system, and the design of the interior, particularly the dash.

I guess you could say I share some things in common with my MINI… I’m compact and I work fast!"

What do you love about life in Melbourne?

"I find I am loving Melbourne more and more as time goes on. It’s small enough to be familiar and warm, yet large enough to provide new experiences and challenges. I love the laneways, the restaurants, the galleries—Melbourne has a relaxed European style that I relate to and always love coming home to after work trips.  

I love making my morning coffee in our kitchen at home, but if I do go out I love Top Paddock in Richmond for breakfast, and John Gorilla in Brunswick East for lazy weekend brunches. My favourite dinner spot at the moment is Epocha in Carlton. Melbourne has so many gorgeous bars, but when I’m out for drinks it’s usually at Royal Saxon in Richmond, or Siglo in the city.

My perfect day out in Melbourne would be a trip to the National Gallery of Victoria, then lunch at Movida, a walk through the botanic gardens, then a drink at Madame Brussels before watching a film at Rooftop Cinema. 

When I need to shop, my go-tos are Emporium, Highpoint shopping centre, and Smith Street for interesting vintage finds. The shopping in Melbourne is incredible.

If I’m in the mood for some pampering, The Norbu Spa at The Olsen is just heaven.

I’ve loved my MIMCO years so far, and have so much more to do with the brand, however life is long and creative energy needs reinvigoration as time goes by. I believe I’ve got a few more chapters in this life still to write."

Thank you to MINI Australia for bringing our Close Encounters series to life.

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