Mara HoffmanA Shaman for the Sartorial MassesBy Yasha Wallin
A Shaman for the Sartorial Masses
Mara Hoffman dons all white as she greets us in her sprawling, light- flooded downtown Manhattan studio. The first word that comes to mind upon meeting the New York native is “grounded”—a feat for someone at the helm of one of the city’s most sought- after fashion houses (not to mention her own household as a mother to four- year-old Joaquin).
By Yasha Wallin
The almost ceremonial, colorless attire she’s wearing contradicts the bold hues and mystical patterns that her eponymous line is synonymous with. But for Hoffman it’s all about contrasts: Paired with an intense ambition that’s propelled her into a fashion force carried in 400 specialty stores and major department stores worldwide, she also maintains an inner calm. This kind of balance is what women-the- world-over aspire to; why her brand is seen in spades on the beaches of Tulum, Montauk, and St Tropez; worn by everyone from Beyonce to Lena Dunham. And while most known for her swimsuits, just as coveted are her ready-to-wear, kids, bridal, and recently launched category, activewear (hello, psychedelic sports bras). We spoke with Hoffman fresh from a marathon trip to Morocco where she was shooting her Resort Swim ’16 editorial.
Travel is a huge inspiration: Why is it so important?
Travel is my juice, it feeds the creativity. It’s the plug-in, the recharge, the mojo. It’s my life force for creativity. It’s the jump-off for whatever my next collection is going to be, it sets my head into the right movement towards the future. Getting to a destination and being part of it: smelling the air, immersing myself in the culture, and feeling the textiles. It’s what I need to come back here and turn out these collections. Without it, I would probably fade a bit.
What was your first trip out of the country?
My father is a classical cellist and we used to spend about three weeks at a time in Puerto Rico so he could play in the Pablo Casals Festival.
You studied at Central Saint Martins in London for a summer, which many people see as a creative sister city to New York. How would you compare the two?
It’s an energetic similarity as far as getting shit done. In my relationship to New York, or any bigger city, I wouldn’t live here just to chill. At this point in my life, I would be more in nature. So here and in London, it’s that accessibility to get things done and to work on your passion. And to work on it on a more public or larger level and have the accessibility of people and materials.
New Yorkers wear a lot of black. How did you get people out of their comfort zone wearing more color?
When you’re trying to get a sea of people that wear black to embrace color, it’s not the hardest thing. It’s easier to speak to their travel selves, or their vacation selves first, like, “Ooh, I could take that with me somewhere.” Also, as soon as the weather shifts, women shift. Color speaks to that part of you and your sexuality—your life force that’s itching to get out after a long winter.
You first launched your swim collection in Miami. Miami is its own…
…beast! Miami has a different energy from New York and London. The heat does something to people, it is its own force of nature. Aesthetically, Miami is outright sexier. If skin equals sexy, then Miami wins for sexy. It’s the Latin influence that embraces this super feminine kind of “own it,” curvy, it’s okay to show skin, wear tighter pieces, yes!
In regards to body image, there is a larger conversation in the fashion industry about the need for more diversity and range of body types. How have you addressed this?
By putting it out there and continually saying, “Look at this, it’s so beautiful, she’s so beautiful, holy moly, this should knock your socks off!” But it’s also very true to my aesthetic. It’s not something that I hit a season and then I’m like, “I’ve got to make this season very diverse.” It’s really what in- spires me as an artist; who are my muses? [They are] a rainbow.
Do I think there should be more diversity in the fashion industry? Absolutely. But how do you tell a creator what they should feel inspired by? I can speak for myself. And hopefully the women and the men that listen to me are inspired by me and embrace it.
I like to build shit, I make it happen, I like fire.
What makes a woman sexy?
I know it sounds cliche, but confidence makes a woman sexy. A woman who believes that she is sexy and feels it.
How can we learn to embrace it more?
I was listening to a TED talk about outer space. The story line was that humans need proof, visuals that there’s intelligent life in this universe, multiverse. For me it’s like an absolute zero-brainer— we are 100% not alone.
But this woman was speaking about, how if we could have that proof, what it would do to human beings, what that could change. Instead of seeing ourselves as these separate tribes of people, instead of the diverse separatism and the wars, we would see ourselves as the tribe of human beings—the Earth tribe. Everyone would feel the same and that we’re brother and sister; it would unify us.
This is a beautiful and existential idea, which relates to your work, where nature and mythology are common themes. The fashion industry, however, isn’t the most environmentally friendly. Have you been able to translate your love of nature into your production practices?
A big focus for the company now is redirecting our manufacturing processes and figuring out how we can make the most responsible choices. It is an enormous part of my, as well my company’s, thought process. But it takes time to resource, and with that new re-sourcing to make sure that that in itself is a sustainable resource. We’re working on it.
And your activewear is made in LA. How difficult was it to have U.S. manufacturing?
Our swimwear has always been manufactured in the U.S. It’s actually a lot easier for us in the sense that our prints are so engineered and we need to be present for that each step of the way. To send it overseas—there’s too much risk in that. We found awesome manufacturers in California, and we can be there in five hours. So my production team goes and makes sure one bikini top wasn’t cut upside down, because it changes the whole print.
Where do you come up with the designs and patterns for collections?
The inspiration for the prints each season is a theme or story. For example, our Resort 2016 collection was inspired by Marrakesh and by Yves Saint Laurent’s time there in the 1970s. We just came off of spring’s collection inspired by Willie Nelson and Americana from the 60s and 70s. The jump-off point for the collection was Willie Nelson’s rendition of “Nothin’ But Blue Skies” so I had to do a cloud print which we hadn’t done before. I had a full cloud ensemble when I was 7-years-old and a cloud-painted bedroom, so it was coming full circle.
This image of you and the whole family wearing cloud print is amazing. Your husband Javier Piñon is a collage artist. How is it having another creative in the household?
I think it’s good. We inspire each other. Having two creatives in a household could go either way: It could be a little combustible, or it could be an understandable environment for both people. I think the latter is for us: we understand each other’s processes, we are inspired when the other one is inspired. I feel like if I had married a dude in finance or some other world it would just be… [my husband] understands my weirdo-ness, my creativity, my processes, and my ins and outs of insecurity, self-doubt, and then self-highs. There’s that [bond] you share with another artist because it’s a very emotional trip that you go on when you’re a creator.
And you’ve collaborated on a son?
We deeply collaborated on the most magnificent piece of work, our son Joaquin, who’s just radical.
Does your son weigh in on your collections?
Absolutely. I had a work-from-home-day yesterday, and he was like, “Mom, are you working on another fashion show? You’re always working on fashion shows.” Some kids connect to it, some don’t; he gets it. He recognizes beautiful dresses now and he speaks about them. He’s just now differentiating more of the male and female, because we’ve raised him very loosely. He loved to wear dresses. And it’s just now because he’s in a new school and around more traditional boy vibes that he’s differentiating what’s boy and what’s girl. We’re a little bit heartbroken by it but it’s part of the process.
What would you say to him if he wanted to be a fashion designer?
Whatever! I want him to be happy. I say be happy, let’s find happiness. When I don’t feel super happy, it aches. Sometimes it takes people a long time to understand what happiness really feels like, or what it does. So I want him to be happy, I don’t care what he does.
Are you happy?
For the most part I am. I have moments—I’m hard on myself, and when I’m hard on myself I’m not that happy.
Is fashion a luxury?
It depends. There are incredible ways to be inventive and to create fashion and be an alchemist, depending on your comfort and creativity level. Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s an incredible quote but it’s true: if you have the will there’s a way. Street fashion didn’t originate from $8,000 skirts. It was creating your own aesthetic and then making things from nothing. So is it a luxury? It can be, absolutely. It just depends on how you look at it.
After having so much success in your career and business where do you want to go?
As I’m getting older I’m understanding what I need this life to be…I need there to be more in the sense of, what am I with this company and what is my give-back? Do I care to be this gigantus brand? I don’t care, I don’t think that’s the route to happiness. I’m not totally inspired and driven by fashion. I’m just not. It’s my medium; I’ve been doing it for so long that I understand it and I know how to do it well. But like I said, I really want to be happy, I want to resonate in a place of sweetness, gentleness, self-love, and ease. Not without ambition, because I’m an ambitious human being, I like goals. I’m an Aries: I like to build shit, I make it happen, I like fire. It’s just now, do I think the world needs a lot more clothing? I don’t. So I’m a bit in conflict with that. But how do I turn this creation into something more meaningful? I’m in that process of exploring it right now and figuring it out.
So in five years I hope to not be glued to my phone; I hope to be traveling; I hope to be meditating all the time; I hope to feel really wonderful about who I am as a human being and what I’ve done as a mother with my son, and my relationship to my husband, my relationship to God, my relationship to this planet. I want it all in peace.