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Op-Ed | Joe Mimran, Dressed in Déjà Vu

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Following the news that Joe Mimran is retiring from his role at Joe Fresh, Shinan Govani reflects on the pop culture status of one of Canada’s most successful fashion entrepreneurs.

Joe Mimran | Source: Courtesy

TORONTO, Canada — Fifteen years after Joe Mimran left Club Monaco, the brand he created, the executive is in the news again, this time, due to his departure from the label that bears his name: Joe Fresh

Mimran’s ouster from Club Monaco in 2000 was swift. Summoned to a Toronto hotel one morning, one year after Club Monaco was bought by Ralph Lauren in a deal said to be worth $122 million, the 47-year-old was relieved of his services “in a heartbeat,” reported The Globe and Mail. Later that day, there was a management meeting at Club Monaco’s Toronto headquarters, where employees were told of the sudden exit. According to one observer, staff and friends sat as if in “shiva” (a mourning period in Judaism, reserved for immediate relatives) for a fashion brand that had made the unusual-enough leap from Canadian origins to global awareness. This was before Lululemon and Canada Goose.

The most astonishing thing? Mimran did it all over again, chiselling his place in Canada’s pantheon as the greatest fashion impresario the country has ever produced, crossing over from fashion industry figure to pop cultural figure.

Mimran’s comeback was a cheaply cheerful label named Joe Fresh, founded nine years ago as a grocery mart clothing line and bankrolled by Loblaw, the Canadian supermarket behemoth. Today, Joe Fresh has more than 340 retail locations, six freestanding stores in the United States and placement in 650 JC Penney stores. The brand has also embarked on global store roll-out that saw its first flagship outside of North America open in Seoul last year. Additional locations are planned for the Middle East, Africa and Europe. At the opening of the Joe Fresh store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Michael Bloomberg, the city’s erstwhile mayor, described Joe Fresh as the “greatest Canadian import since Justin Bieber.” And by Joe Fresh, everybody knew he meant Joe Mimran.

Mimran is the only person to start not one, but two major Canadian brands. This despite the fact that Canada’s population is less than that of California and ‘making it’ often involves leaving the country. From Gosling to Shatner to Twain, that’s always been the natural arc.

Though the notion of designers-as-celebrities is not unique — Karl Lagerfeld wears those gloves, Tom Ford likes his stubble just so — in Canada, Joe Fresh is pop culture. And the man behind it — who migrated with his family from Morocco, where his mother was a courtier (“I grew up to the sound of a sewing machine,” Mimran once said) — was a bona fide celeb, his silver coif and Giannini Agnelli-esque jackets a familiar visage.

Joe’s rise — both Fresh’s and Mimran’s — was accomplished, in part, through a kind of fame-frottage. Parties at Miami’s Art Basel, pop-ups in the Hamptons, functions with Jessica Chastain. The brand even flew in Patti Smith to do a private concert at a party held during Toronto’s Film Festival. When the Queen of Punk remarked how soft his sweater was that night, Mimran snapped right back: “Oh, it’s Joe Fresh, $29.” It certainly didn’t hurt that Joe Fresh came along at a time when fashion and pop culture seemed to be in a lock-dance more than ever — the era of Prada-wearing devils, Project Runway and designers such as Diane von Furstenberg lining up to do reality shows. Meanwhile, Mimran’s profile was increased by his marriage to Kim Newport, who went on to start her own higher-end brand, Pink Tartan. In Canada, they were the King and Queen of fashion.

Even in 2013, as dark clouds gathered for the company after the fatal collapse of Rana Plaza, where Joe Fresh items were produced, Mimran was front-and-centre. In response to the disaster, Loblaw contributed $1 million to Save the Children Bangladesh and other support groups. It also rallied several retailers to sign a pact to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh.

Two days ago, Mimran announced that he would cede control of the label to the brand’s president Mario Grauso. Though there had been rumours of a power exchange for at least two months, the announcement still caused Canadian jaws to drop. The company’s official statements said all the things that are usually said at times like these, thanking Mimran and promising to remain committed to “creating clothes with great style and great value.” Mimran, likewise, said all the appropriate things back. The word “journey” was uttered, but an interview the executive gave to the Toronto Star caused some head-scratching. “I’ve been looking to relax a little bit and enjoy my home in Palm Beach, my wife and kids,” Mimran told the paper.

Wait… Joe? Relax? That didn’t sound like the ambitious showman that the country had grown to know. Or was it the deadest of give-aways that Mimran is only amping up for his next act? Alas, it was only a couple of days before a press release came coursing via the national broadcaster, CBC, about Mimran. Turns out he’s going to be heading to the natural refuge of many a celebrity — Joe, it was announced, is set to join the cast of the reality show, Dragon’s Den.

Shinan Govani is a Canada-based writer and columnist.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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