The term “dopamine dressing” is often associated with loud prints and colours – but at its core, the idea revolves around the mood-enhancing power of wearing something you love and feel good in.
Auckland-based designer Mahsa Willis, of fashion label Mahsa, has put forth a characteristically elegant interpretation of dopamine dressing with her latest “mood” (her term for her narrative-based collections): New Bohemia.
Since it launched in 2016, the New Zealand-made label has been particularly popular for its blouses, shirts and dresses – all of which are elegant but never stiff. Mahsa has a romanticism about it, and many of its pieces are easy to wear thanks to both Willis’s fabric choices – lightweight organic cotton voiles and silks – and relaxed silhouettes.
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Aside from online, the label is stocked across New Zealand, at Sydney boutiques Arida and Poepke, and at international decor and lifestyle store Clic in the US.
While Willis doesn’t design according to the seasons, as many other labels do, New Bohemia is billed as “Mahsa’s response to our world reopening”. “I felt like bringing something not entirely new – but a little bit more optimistic,” she tells Broadsheet. “I quite liked the philosophy of my parents’ time” – the bohemian culture of the late ’60s and ’70s – “but also bringing it into now.”
New pieces such as the Long Celebration shirt are ’70s-inspired, with a slightly exaggerated collar and bell sleeves. There’s the below-the-knee Elsa skirt in cotton or printed silk. A fresh palette will take wearers through winter and into the warmer months with shades of sky blue, peony pink, a colour described as “music-festival mud-brown” and a paisley print inspired by the 1967 Summer of Love.
The Gala blouse is Mahsa’s most recognisably “sexy” piece to date – a full-sleeved blouse with triple ties that flash some skin. It can be worn tied at the front or back and is available in several shades, including sheer black and white cotton organza. “Even though I’m middle-aged, I still like channelling a little bit of quiet sexiness,” says Willis.
Acknowledging the fact that it’s still winter in the southern hemisphere, there’s a new coat – the Universal Trench, also with slightly voluminous sleeves and a ’70s-inspired collar and lapel. Available in houndstooth or light olive cotton, it’s almost dress-like, with a belt to tie around the waist.
At the starting point for each new mood, Willis says she incorporates both fabrics and silhouettes into her creative process – but they always adhere to an overarching narrative. “My background is [in] advertising and ideas. I spent a lot of time in [the] creative department so I always have an idea – almost like I play out a film inside my mind. And then when I meet fabrics and start crafting silhouettes, they speak to the broader idea.”
A couple of years seems to be the natural life cycle or life span of a mood, she says, and then the ongoing pieces from that mood become part of the label’s classics – its best-known garments.
Unsurprisingly, Willis isn’t a fan of the ubiquitous leisurewear that has become even more popular during the pandemic. “I always struggle with sweatpants. I’m okay with pyjamas … I think it is about dressing for yourself – but it also is just about being really comfortable with how you are and how you’re feeling. Comfort is queen.”
The designer is a fan of surfing, and is heading out to the wild west coast Piha beach after being interviewed. It’s a hobby she took up during lockdown, and while she found it intimidating at first, “the more I got into it, the more I’d challenged all those fears. Before I knew it, I was punching through it.”
That’s part of what inspired New Bohemia too, she says. “You don’t necessarily need to have massive change, or you don’t need to go halfway around the world or go holidaying in Ibiza or whatever. You can actually just drive down the road. It’s such a state of mind.”