Jewelry Designer Mimi So Knows How To Make A Celebrity Look Shine

She’s worked with everyone from Beyoncé to the SATC cast.

Mimi So
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Often jewelry is considered a finishing touch, the last thing you put on to complete an outfit. After all, accessories are, by definition, something additional. But designer Mimi So knows the power jewelry has to dialogue with clothes and elevate them to an entirely different space. Superstars (like Beyoncé and Mariah Carey), hit TV productions (including Sex and the City and the recent And Just Like That... reboot), and celebrity stylists have relied on her expertise for over two decades to construct images with her precious metal and gemstone adornments. Her creations are not sparkly afterthoughts but essential elements of a look’s overall effect.

To realize the full potential of So’s statement-making pieces, one needn’t look further than an episode of Sex and the City. Shortly before the world got to know Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda, in the late ‘90s, So would meet the now-beloved characters as the wardrobe came together for the SATC series pilot. There were no big-name brands attached to the program, and so not long after striking out on her own, So was tapped to craft jewelry looks for the four archetypes that would have a seismic impact on pop culture for decades to follow.

“My jewelry really worked for that set,” So recalls. “Because the way I work, I am really designing more for the spirit of the woman. My pieces have personal stories and distinctive looks. I design from within.” Samantha made most sense with So’s graphic and geometric Piece Collection; Carrie would wear more playful items, like a starfish ring; delicate, feminine, floral jewelry befit Charlotte; Miranda opted for more refined, conservative items. So added an understated but defining layer of storytelling to a show that revered fashion, and would come to be known for its characters’ eclectic styles.

A project like SATC was the perfect fit for So’s expressive jewelry, and one that benefited from her carefully considered approach to styling. When she got the call to come back for And Just Like That..., she brought that same eye toward the characters’ personalities in shaping their jewelry looks over a decade later. “There are definitely changes, they’re more mature now,” So notes of the (now slightly smaller) friend group in 2022. “[I focused on] maintaining their characters’ soul, sort of just, you know, growing it up a little bit.”

As a third-generation jeweler, So wasn’t new to the trade when she launched her namesake business in 1998. She had grown up in her parents’ downtown atelier, helping out as needed to do her part for the family business. But after completing her graphic design studies at Parsons, she had a stronger sense of her own artistic voice. The recent grad took various design jobs and assisted at her family’s shop for a short while before deciding that if she were going to hone her skills and truly discover her style as a designer, she would need to do so on her own.

“I'm glad that I took the path that I did because that's why my work has my handprint, my aesthetic,” So says. “People could see it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that's Mimi.’” Stepping away from the family business to realize her dreams was exhilarating and terrifying. Full creative control thrilled her, but running her own shop would, of course, come with all the challenges of being a small boutique owner and a new-on-the-scene artist. “When you’re the youngest and you’re rebellious, you’re always trying to prove yourself,” she says. “You know you’re really falling in love deep when you sink your own money and resources into your work.”

So developed a design style centered around a cleanly executed playfulness. Her jewelry is entrancing the way shining gemstones often are, but what sets it apart is how much personality is imbued in her work. A Mimi So accessory is always going to be a statement piece, but it doesn’t necessarily shout to make itself known; not always overwhelmingly flashy, but always fun. “Even though it can be graphic and tailored, there’s going to be a little note of whimsy,” she says. “It has a boldness behind it, but all in balance with the aesthetic. Some things we can't take too seriously. I think that if we're going to be in the jewelry space, we have to be giving some joy.”

So brings a creative director’s sensibilities to the task of putting together a look, informed by the “old school” way of having garments made: a more bespoke method that included customer input in everything from picking out fabrics to discussing the idea for the look, rather than simply selecting pieces off the rack. That kind of collaborative process has earned her plenty of work with stylists who seek her talents in completing ensembles for their clients. So has sat in her shop opposite stars like Lil’ Kim, sketching out ideas as they weighed in. To the designer, that kind of teamwork makes all the difference. Customers get So’s full attention in building their vision and eventually go home with unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry. “That's true luxury,” she says.

So’s whimsical pieces first attracted the attention of stylists for hip-hop’s rising stars, such as Ashanti, Eve, and Destiny’s Child, around the turn of the millennium. She noticed a pattern of designers turning their noses up at burgeoning talent, deemed not yet established enough to be worthy of their precious gems. What legacy fine jewelry brands saw as nonstarters or not enough, So viewed as opportunities.

“What I’m very proud of is that I really supported a lot of the artists when they were coming up,” the designer says, noting that even some of the music industry’s most promising young talent didn’t have the “certain kind of look” prominent jewelry companies would consider for collaboration. For So, however, that was part of the appeal. “Because I grew up in New York City and I believe in a melting pot, and because I love music and fashion, I was in the [thick] of it all,” she says. “For me, it was about the excitement of supporting another artist and that’s why it felt so organic. I was the go-to girl for this audience, like a bridge between the music and fashion.”

As we sit in her SoHo shop, the designer reminisces about how gracious Beyoncé is and recalls Mariah Carey’s casual comedic wit. Despite the icon status and deep pockets of her clientele, So carefully selected her projects even as an emerging business owner and sometimes turned A-listers down if the work didn’t quite align with her own authentic style. Such was the case once with rapper Busta Rhymes when he and his team approached So for a super-icy eagle design. “[He] was totally nice, but I just knew that was not my forté,” she says of the proposed piece. “I really wanted to stay true to my art and what I'd love to make, what I know that represents me.”

Of course, working with such high-profile customers has its own special set of challenges. “[The projects are] always very last-minute,” So explains. “It’s expensive; it’s labor intensive.” Still, she admits, the end result is almost always worth it. “You’re really riding on an adrenaline high, but it’s very magical because that trust is there,” she continues. “Knowing a client felt like a million bucks is really special for someone like myself who is a creator. And of course, the after-parties are always the best.”

Dressing celebrities to be seen by the world and designing jewelry with which customers commemorate some of life’s biggest moments is a job, sure. And competing as a small business among the Goliaths of the luxury jewelry industry makes it a particularly demanding one. But it’s ultimately something So views as a privilege, too.

“It is a big deal,” she says. “My name is on their engagement ring, their wedding ring, something they look at every day. It’s heavy, in a sense. I own that privilege. That's why I care so much to give my best because I really understand that exchange, what it means and what it warrants.”

It’s that kind of care that turns customers into repeat clients. There’s a reason Jay-Z decided he’d need duplicates of So’s pieces (“He loved the medallion for his Vibe magazine cover so much and said it was his good luck charm! He was afraid he would lose one and wanted to have two.”) and that the team from SATC reached back out to the designer years after the show’s finale to bring her back on board for And Just Like That... She’s invested in her work beyond just a piece she forges and finishes — So is committed to the long haul. She’s formed collaborative, lasting relationships with her clients and built a business that continues to survive alongside industry heavy-hitters with a fraction of their resources.

“Longevity matters,” So says. “That's an accomplishment in itself.”

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