Paloma Elsesser and Alexia Elkaim
Aren’t Dinner Party Bitches

By Mara Veitch

Alexia Elkaim and Paloma Elsesser.
Photo courtesy of Alexia Elkaim and Paloma Elsesser.

When Paloma Elsesser and Alexia Elkaim first met, it was sometime in the early aughts and they were drunk in a bounce house in Los Angeles. While a lot has changed in the years since their fateful encounter—Elsesser ascended the ranks of supermodel stardom and Elkaim founded the buzzy hot girl brand Miaou—a lot has stayed the same. Recently, the pair extended their friendship into the professional realm, by collaborating on a size inclusive collection for Miaou. The collection, a 30-piece summer capsule in sizes ranging up to 4X, marries Paloma’s eye for sophistication with the brand’s signature sexy exuberance. For Elsesser, the collaboration was about making fun clothes accessible to the plus community. For Elkaim, it was a chance to “let go and let Paloma.” For both of them, it was a friendship-altering experience. Here, the pair discuss the night they first met, the many ways to interpret a text message, and the challenge their collection poses to the rest of the industry.

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PALOMA ELSESSER: Hi doll. This feels weird. 

ALEXIA ELKAIM: I know, we were literally just talking about my boy troubles. What is the PG version of how we met?

[Both laugh]

ELSESSER: Well, I must have been like 14. You were throwing a house party, and I was absolutely blackout, right? 

ELKAIM: Yes. I rented a—what do you call it? A moon bounce. I was 15. The year was, are we dating ourselves? Maybe we shouldn’t give the year.

ELSESSER: The year was… not recent. [Both laugh] We were in high school. I was friends with all the guys at your school, and I met you through them. They were like, “Come to this party.” I went straight for the bounce house. I was so fucked up that I had to sleep at your house, and your mom was concerned for my life.

ELKAIM: She was. She was.

ELSESSER: And that was the start of a beautiful friendship. Also Interview, please note that I still call Alexia “Meow.” It’s her old nickname. 

ELKAIM: Paloma and my mom are the only ones who still call me Meow. 

ELKAIM: Yeah, all my guy friends were like, “You have to meet Paloma. She’s the coolest.” So, I had this expectation that you were like the coolest person ever, and lo and behold.

ELSESSER: Lo and behold, I passed out at your house.

ELKAIM: And we’ve been inseparable ever since.

ELSESSER: That’s an absolute fact.

ELKAIM: Period.

ELSESSER: We had such a rarefied L.A. high school experience, partying and doing all these quite adult things—I’m putting the phone down because I have to put deodorant on.

ELKAIM: We had a really intense childhood together, and I leaned on you so much. You introduced me to a new chapter. 

ELSESSER: We’ve been through such crazy things. I think the through-line of all our early, seminal experiences is that we love to have fun, but we’re also dark. [Both laugh] Which I guess hasn’t changed.

ELKAIM: We were always down for anything. But we could also sit together for hours and just do nothing, and that was a part of the magic. 

ELSESSER: I’m worried that because this conversation is just you and I on the phone, I might do something unprofessional by accident. I might kind of smoke a cigarette right now. 

ELKAIM: Do it. How did our collaboration come about?

ELSESSER: Before you started Miaou, you were doing a bit of everything. You have this ferocious optimism and excitement that I’ve always admired. You were DJing, making jewelry, you started a magazine. I remember being like, “Babe, you should start a brand. You’re kind of on the brink.” We got to navigate our early 20s together, so I feel like I’ve been weirdly a part of Miaou from the beginning. So this collaboration felt really natural, right? It never felt like labor. We rely on each other, and know everything that’s going on in each other’s lives. I was talking to you about wanting to design a collection, you were like, “Let’s just do it.” Were we in bed?

ELKAIM: We were on the phone, and I was like, “Would you ever want to do a collab?” You were like, “Duh.”

ELSESSER: Duh. 

ELKAIM: We started working in fashion at the same time, obviously on very different paths. You’ve always just been a person that I trust in all senses of the word. You didn’t have a business at the time, but I knew that I could rely on you for honest answers.

ELSESSER: I mean, same. It feels cool that we’ve been talking about size extension from the beginning—even in our private conversations. The early discussions were like, “What are the colors that you lean into? What shapes?” You really listened to me, which I really appreciated, that’s a kind of input that I don’t always get to have. When it came to design, we were talking about a top with a corseted back, and I could say to you, “That won’t work, because I wear a bra.” You were so receptive to my perspective, not just as a designer and businesswoman, but as my friend.

ELKAIM: I agree. From the beginning, you’ve been in the position of representing projects that you’re not necessarily creatively part of, and I knew that was something you wanted. I was so down to be a vessel for that. I wouldn’t let anyone else do what we did together. It was a new experience for me. I wanted you to take the reins because I knew that you would kill it, and you did. We also worked with all of our friends, which was so nice. It felt like a family affair.

ELSESSER: It really did. Madeline [Poole] did the patterns, Niki [Takesh] pulled colors. I know that it sounds kind of corny, but when I woke up on my birthday in Jamaica with you guys, I was like, “Wow, we get to move through really hard personal stuff and really beautiful stuff all together.” Also, everyone is equipped—we didn’t bring them onboard because they’re our friends, but because they’re amazing at what they do. We’ve all spent these formative years—

ELKAIM: —Honing our craft.

ELSESSER: Yeah, together. 

ELKAIM: Also, we’re such career people. I don’t want to say our lives are our jobs, but it takes up so much of our time, so why not do it with your friends? Like, who better than us?

ELSESSER: I wrote in my journal recently, “We’re not farmers-market-dinner-party bitches. We’re make-a-pitch-deck-in-Jamaica bitches. We’re like, pulling looks to go to the fucking liquor store girls.” Well, maybe the grocery store. [Both laugh] I feel really lucky that we’ve got this community that makes us feel seen, cared for, understood, and fought for, on a personal and career level. Literally, I looked around when we were shooting the campaign, and realized that I had a relationship with everyone on that set. I knew Scarlett [Costello] because she went to school with my brother. Danny and I did the Met stuff together. I’ve worked with Evanie [Frausto] since he was an assistant. Ariella [Starkman] produced it. We’ve created these ecosystems that just let us feel good, you know? It’s not like, “Oh, we need a girl photographer.” No. I just want my friend, who’s this amazing photographer, to shoot this. This is actually what people dream of doing. 

ELKAIM: And I think people can tell when a project comes from that place. 

ELSESSER: I think the collection is a true marriage of the two of us. You have a very bright, playful perspective on design. Mine’s a bit more specific—I wouldn’t say chic—but more formal. I like to have fun, but I operate from a belief that fashion is like armor. You were so open to me being like, “This needs to be more serious. This needs to be pointier.” I’m also always trying to create ease—I mean, I can feel ease in a boned, laced corset, if it allows me to feel like my best self. There’s nuance to ease, it’s not just jeans and a t-shirt. There’s ease in feeling fab. What you’ve done with Miaou, creating consistent shapes with different patterns, allows the wearer to be like, “I want to go out tonight. What am I going to wear? Oh, this Miaou set.” 

ELKAIM: 100 percent. It’s funny, I don’t wear that much color personally, but there’s so much color in Miaou. When I design, I’m like, “Clothes should be fun! Let’s make it fun!” And you’re like, “Okay, but also…” This collection introduced regal colors that I would never have reached for. I mean, it was definitely a learning curve for me to just let go and let Paloma. It was just about having you lead the conversations, and lay out your vision. The collection is inspired by sources that I don’t usually look at, like rugs. [Laughs]

ELSESSER: “This Milano foyer has inspired me.” I mean, I can speak to what the plus community only wants and needs access to. And you know this business like the back of your hand. Also, we just know what the other one likes. Last night, I sent you the link to a shirt that I saw on TheRealReal like, “This is so you.” That’s kind of what the process was like. 

ELKAIM: I bought that shirt, by the way.

ELSESSER: I knew you would. I think that, because we’re so close, the parts that would be stressful were softened by an understanding of where the other person is at. If I have family stuff going on, you’re like, “Let’s just speak to her agent today.” I’m really grateful for that. We both knew it was going to get done and end up being amazing. 

ELKAIM: Yeah, so much care. Next question: how do you hope this collaboration will impact the industry?

ELSESSER: I think people don’t understand that it’s not like, “Oh, let’s just use Paloma to launch this because she’s the plus size model girl!” You’ve seen, so intimately, my struggles. We’ve always shared clothes, and I’ve always been bigger than most of my friends. I’m quite fearless with what I want to wear. I never feel like, “Oh this trend is happening. but I can’t try it.” So, it’s not like I’m being tokenized—you believe that this is the right platform for me. I want the industry to understand that this was an organic reflection of both of our moral tenants, and that this is something that you’ve advocated for, and witnessed me grapple with over 15 years of friendship. I also hope the industry realizes that extended sizing is not a trend or a one-off thing. Miaou is a small, direct-to-consumer brand. It’s saying to the big brands with all the resources, “This is not that hard you guys.” You get another fit model in, you ask questions, you’re curious about what the plus size community wants to feel which, ultimately, is just ease. I see myself as a mid-sized person. I have the privilege of walking into some stores and finding clothes, but I have to pick carefully. What would it look like if you could go on a website, select a size above 10,  and were just like “add to cart”? Going up to a 4X—again, you are a small brand with limited bandwidth—is an example of that same ferocious optimism, and it’s showing other brands what’s possible.

ELKAIM: I started Miaou because I wanted to make clothes that made me and my friends feel good, it’s not that deep. That’s really what it was. I mean, I always made clothes that fit you, but it only went up to your size. I know you have had struggles that maybe other people experience more of, which ties into that mid-sized point of yours. But you inspired me. Obviously, I don’t occupy the space that you do, but it felt like an authentic thing for the brand. I hope that this challenges adjacent brands. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than launching a new category—like swim or whatever. 

ELSESSER: This challenge also comes down to the humanity of the consumer, and the girl who wants to feel sexy. Who are we to deny people—this sounds heavy—their humanity by making clothes a privilege? I’m so lucky to do this with you. 

ELKAIM: We did it together babe. 

ELSESSER: Yeah, we did it together. Us having this conversation in 30 minutes is hilarious, because we literally spent three hours on the phone yesterday dissecting one text message from a guy. 

ELKAIM: We’re like, “He used three ‘i’s” in “Hi.” What does that mean?


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