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They'll Take Manhattan
Susan Swimmer | Photo: elk/Erin Kornfeld & Erica Leone | December 30, 2013
After finding fashion success with Club Monaco, entrepreneur Joe Mimran and his wife, Kimberley Newport-Mimran, have struck gold with their respective follow-ups, Joe Fresh and Pink Tartan. Now the Canadian power couple has brought their winning take on desirable-yet-affordable fashion from Toronto to NYC—and they’re here to stay.
Kimberley Newport-Mimran is perched on a cork-covered ottoman, trying to maneuver a broken toe into a pair of sleek Louboutin pumps. “I can do it,” she says with conviction, contorting her body just so. “I know I can.” As this Cinderella moment unfolds, a cellphone chimes, alerting her of the arrival of her prince for their photo shoot at Chelsea’s Hotel Americano. “This is so great,” Newport-Mimran says. “I never get to see my husband during the day.”
The Toronto-based Mimrans are considered Canadian retail royalty, and for good reason. She’s the president and head designer of Pink Tartan, a womenswear line she cofounded in 2002, and two wildly successful stores in Toronto. Her husband, Joe, is none other than the retail guru behind both Club Monaco (which he sold to Ralph Lauren in 1999 for $52.5 million) and Joe Fresh, the chain of high-style, low-cost clothing he launched in 2006.
Theirs is a dizzying life of fashion, family, art and culture. And although Toronto remains home (their 12-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, attends school there), the Mimrans are keen to place a firm footprint in NYC. To that end, they’re putting the finishing touches on a two-bedroom apartment in a Peter Marino-designed building overlooking Gracie Mansion. “The amount of energy that flows out of Manhattan is just amazing,” Mimran says. “Every neighborhood has its own vibe, and I love that. There’s no other place I can get a quick read on trends just by walking out my door.”
Both Mimrans were early style savants. Newport-Mimran’s interest was piqued as she paged through her mother’s fashion magazines and took hold when she discovered the films of Alfred Hitchcock in her teens. “I became obsessed with the clothing,” she says of classics like The Birds and Rear Window. “That was a time when women really dressed. The cut of the clothes, the way the fabric draped—I’d always loved clothes, but that’s when I started to form a certain aesthetic.”
Those early observations continue to inform her designs to this day. The Pink Tartan look is both prim and powerful—think crisp men’s shirting with kicky contrast piping, superskinny tuxedo pants and technologically advanced fabrics like faux leather that’s as buttery as the real thing. “I grew up in menswear,” says Newport-Mimran, who cut her teeth in product development at Club Monaco’s menswear division. “That world is all about fabric and fit, and I learned to love the technical details of making clothes.”
She’s equally consumed with her Pink Tartan stores, which carry the line as well as a carefully curated selection of favorites from other designers. “I still love to have a hand in merchandising,” she says. “It’s a whole aesthetic thing for me—how it looks, what the environment feels like. I have wool blankets from Scotland, fur slippers, my beloved candles...” There’s talk of a New York City outpost too. “It would be great,” she says. “I find so much inspiration here.”
Joe Mimran grew up in Toronto in a house that was filled, quite literally, with clothes. His mother worked as a seamstress at a department store by day and made custom clothes for private clients by night. Their small apartment was littered with fabric scraps, straight pins and tangles of trim. That influence proved indelible: In his early 20s, Mimran partnered with his mother and brother to start a small manufacturing business making women’s ready-to-wear.
The company grew slowly, until one fateful day when Mimran couldn’t find a well-priced white button-down shirt for himself and decided there was a hole in the retail landscape for stylish basics. He parlayed his notion into Club Monaco, with partner Alfred Sung. Not that the road to success was easy. “Retailing is complicated,” Mimran says of his staunch refusal to give up. “It takes a lot of work, and the business is always changing. Anyone who wants to stay with it has to have perseverance.”
The idea for Joe Fresh was nearly as serendipitous. In 2006, Mimran was approached about creating a line of clothes for Loblaws, a family-owned chain of Canadian supermarkets. In true Mimran style, he developed clothes that had mass appeal but were highly designed. “I knew it had to be quality-centric, fashion-centric from the beginning,” he says. Seven years later, the company’s bright orange logo is a beacon for shoppers searching for everything from smartly tailored topcoats (neoprene, anyone?) to skinny jeans and candy-striped sweaters. There are now 22 free-standing stores in the U.S. and Canada, and 683 shops-within-shops in J.C. Penney stores nationwide. And with new COO Mario Grauso in place, the company is poised for big international growth.
Of course, blending big business with family is tricky, as Newport-Mimran knows full well. Like many successful women, she wants to “lean in” (a la Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg), but she also feels the pull to put family first. “There’s no such thing as balance,” she says, glancing at her husband as he nods in agreement. “You have to prioritize. Hopefully you make the best decisions you can.”
On the cultural front, the couple is particularly drawn to the city’s many museums and galleries. “We started collecting black-and-white photography, and that grew to include modern art in the same palette, like the beautiful Richard Serra chalk drawings we own,” says Mimran. “From there, we started looking for young emerging artists who worked in all different mediums. We love Kenneth Noland, Julia Dault, Donald Moffett, Richard Rappaport… There are so many.” The duo is eager to ignite the same passion in their daughter. “Jacqueline’s very creative, an artsy girl,” Newport-Mimran says. “We took her to Basel last year and let her choose her first piece. I think she’s hooked!”
As the light fades over the city, the Mimrans pose for one last shot on the roof of the hotel overlooking Midtown. It’s late, it’s cold and a bevy of well-meaning assistants swirl anxiously. Joe Mimran is focused on only one thing.
“Now that is a view,” he says. He pulls his wife close to his side, and they gaze at the cityscape while the camera shutter clicks. “New York is about work, style, culture and really great food,” Newport-Mimran adds. “It really has it all.”