Ever wondered who curates the runway music of some of your favorite fashion shows? Meet Mimi Xu, the stylish DJ with a massive handbag collection (she never carries the same bag for more than two days) who has directed the soundtrack for major runway shows, including Chloé, Brandon Maxwell, and Miu Miu, to name a few. Born in Beijing to a musical family (her father is an acoustic architect and composer), the Paris-based musician founded MimiXu Studio six years ago. An average workday for Xu—who goes by the alias Misty Rabbit—sees her spinning tracks for fashion parties, composing original music for shows and films, identifying new talent for brand endorsements, and curating music for events. Aside from setting the mood with her dreamlike bass-heavy synths, the multi-talented music director also produces art installations, and is a publisher of the French electronic music magazine, Trax. Here, Mimi Xu speaks to Vogue Arabia about her creative process, stereotypes she faces, and the rise of Middle Eastern music.
KHAOULA GHANEM: How did your career in blending music and fashion launch?
MIMI XU: After working in the fashion industry for several years, I started receiving invitations to DJ at fashion parties. After a while, I began to get requests to consult on the music identity for fashion brands. I decided to open my music studio in 2012 in London and Paris and slowly amassed a fashion, beauty, and luxury clientele.
Alice Temperley Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear. Music direction by Mimi Xu.
After you receive a designer’s brief, what is your creative process?
Once I receive the mood board, I automatically start to get ideas. It usually takes an average of two or three meetings with the designer to crystallize the soundtrack. First, we go through the collection, then I produce a selection of tracks. We narrow it down to a few, and then I go back to my studio to rework them—I rarely ever use a song the way it is. I change so many elements to make the soundtrack unique to the show and collection.
Which fashion brands are leading the music game?
None of them; it’s not their job. A lot of brands try to seem “cool” by associating their brand with music, but it’s about finding what’s appropriate and relevant to the brand’s identity, otherwise it comes across as very contrived.
What are the music trends today?
Outside of fashion, there is a major comeback of interesting neoclassical music as well as a newly emerging French music scene. I personally believe what is “cool” is actually not trendy. Once it’s mainstream, it’s just so yesterday’s news!
Working in a male-dominated industry, what are some stereotypes that you have been faced with?
Most of the other male DJs are always really surprised when I spin. They have such low expectations from a girl. For fashion shows, I have a male assistant who does my sound check, and it’s really funny when I arrive at the venue because the male technicians always assume that I’m the assistant.
Name check your greatest musical influences of all time.
There are so many, but—David Bowie, Ravel, Bach, Prince, and Nick Cave.
What shoes do you wear to DJ?
Comfortable shoes as I have to stand for at least three hours. I love boots with chunky heels. I need the height and the stability is an added bonus.
Many people listen to music to turn off. How do you turn off?
I eat. I love food. It’s probably only when I’m eating that I’m not listening to music.
Lets talk about your fabulous handbag collection. What brands and styles are you coveting now?
I rarely carry the same bag for more than two days. It’s a cycle, and I’ll go back to the same ones a month or a year later. My most used ones at the moment are by Prada, Miu Miu, Acne Studios (an incredible leather orange backpack), Celine, Chloé, and a lovely red “Lockette” bag given to me by my friend and Creative Director at Jimmy Choo, Sandra Choi.
What can you tell us about the music trends related to fusing Arabic beats?
Arabic music has roots in poetry during the pre-Islamic period (Jahiliyyah) and has massively influenced Western music. A number of musical tools used in modern Western music are said to have derived from Arabic instruments such as the lute and guitar. But the real interaction between Eastern and Western music happened in the 50’s and 60’s where Arabic musicians started to incorporate Western instruments and European (Spanish flamenco and French) musical influences.
Who are some of your favorite Arabic musicians?
I grew up in Paris so I was listening to a lot of pop Arabic singers such as Dalida, Cheb Khaled, and Omar Souleyman.