There’s fashion and then there’s capital-F Fashion — and designer Mossi Traoré’s eponymous label Mossi falls squarely into the latter category. Combining influences from haute couture (Traoré cites famed French couturier Madame Grès as one of his main inspirations), fine art and Traoré’s global travels, the French brand’s beautifully constructed pieces incorporate architectural draped and pleated details. These impeccable details lend an artistic touch to elevated, polished staples.

When he’s not designing, Traoré is nurturing the next generation of haute couture talent at his school, Les Ateliers Alix, which he founded in the 11th arrondissement of Paris where he grew up.

We met up with Traoré in his showroom to talk about how he built Mossi, his design process, where he finds inspiration and why it’s so important to him to give opportunities to those wanting to break into the fashion industry.

RTR: Tell us about your brand, Mossi, and how it all began.

MT: MOSSI is not only a brand that makes clothes, but a global project with the fashion school and the socio-cultural exhibitions that we organize. We also love to mix art and fashion — we did several collaborations with artists on clothes and sneakers. It is a meeting between art and fashion, with a very couture style, from the suburbs. I started in the fashion industry 10 years ago — I had my first brand, worked on my fashion school after that, and started MOSSI two years ago.

RTR: Your studio is based in Paris. How has the city influenced your designs? 

MT: I was born in Paris so my life started in Paris — but today, I am working in the Paris suburbs. I started my first collection in a studio in Paris and worked there for maybe three years. It was an amazing and exciting moment in my life. Paris is a city with a mixed culture, a melting pot, which is very important for me. I like to go and see the world, to have a team made of people from different countries, different cultures. And I think when you are a designer, Paris gives you all these opportunities. After working in Paris, I wanted to go back to my suburb because for me it is important to give opportunities to people from my city to be introduced to the fashion industry. MOSSI is a meeting between Paris center and its suburbs. The suburbs of Paris influenced my work because during my childhood there, I had friends from many cultures, religions and countries, and I think all these elements make the MOSSI project today.

RTR: What’s been the most rewarding part of building your business throughout the years? 

MT: To be honest I don’t know what my biggest satisfaction is, because I have been working for 10 years and a designer’s life is a crazy life — sometimes with very happy moments and sometimes with very bad moments. But I think I’ve had more beautiful moments than bad ones. When I did my first fashion show in India, that made me so happy because I love the country and the culture. It was also an amazing moment when Aishwarya Rai wore my dress. 

When US Vogue came to see our fashion show in a cemetery, that was also a crazy moment. I also loved the photoshoot in Taj Mahal with the Paris Opera ballet dancer Marie-Agnès Gillot, and the creation of my fashion school to pay tribute to Madame Grès. When you have your passion in the heart of your work, it is very difficult to name only one moment.

RTR: Describe the brand in 5 words or less.

MT: Art, couture and social. 

RTR: Your styles are known for their architectural shapes and volume. What’s your design process like? 

MT: I am not sure I have a very specific process when I work on a collection, because every collection is a different story, a different moment of my company with different staff around me. Every season I am very excited to work with an artist, so sometimes taking the direction of the collection’s guest artist is the beginning of my design process. Sometimes it also starts with my staff in the studio when I see them doing fittings and proposing interesting ideas that we take pictures of and then turn into sketches. I think inspiration comes every moment, when you are sleeping, in the shower, on the train. My process starts most of the time when I have an emotional connection to the work of an artist — so the first step is to contact him or her and get the artist for the collection, but after that it depends on my feelings, my emotion, the story I want to create. I don’t have a specific process but I know one thing: to create is to be free and that is my main process. 

RTR: In addition to your business, you also run a school of haute couture in Paris. What has that experience been like for you? 

MT: To be honest, in the beginning, I didn’t know that I would create a fashion school — it wasn’t my plan. I wanted to pay tribute to Madame Grès, who motivated me so much. It was a passion project, and with this school, I can give opportunities to young people, or people from my suburb to study Haute Couture. When I was a student, I had to do everything by myself: finding money to pay for my school, finding internships. And today I am very happy to give these opportunities to people who are passionate and motivated; people who love design, creation and Haute Couture. It’s a passion project, but also an important social action and a very big responsibility. With this training, we give them an opportunity to get the skills to go and work in big Couture houses. 

RTR: We know you love them all, but if you had to pick, what are your must-rent Mossi styles on RTR?

MT: This piece is my must-rent for the season. I love to work with pleats and I think this fabric created beautiful pleats. It can also be worn as both a dress and skirt. It’s a beautiful piece you can play with and create a nice and fun look.

RTR: What’s been the best part about seeing your designs available to rent on Rent the Runway? 

MT: To be on Rent the Runway is an amazing opportunity for us because it gives us the possibility to have a presence in the US market. Rent the Runway was the first marketplace to give us a chance in the US and it makes me happy to see clients on Instagram who share their look with MOSSI clothes. I like the concept of clothes rental, because sometimes designer clothes can be too expensive and you need a beautiful look for a very specific event. I think this concept is a good way to democratize fashion. 

RTR: What are you inspired by right now? How have you been getting into the creative zone? 

MT: Our guest artist for FW22 is a great inspiration to me. I can’t give you her name because it is still a secret for now, but yes, the new artistic project for the next collection is my biggest inspiration. We have many fashion and art projects inspired by India. Getting in the creative zone sometimes means getting out of fashion. I like to walk around Paris in the evenings to get ideas, because I like to be alone when the first ideas come and then share them with my staff. I think I am very inspired by sadness, sad music, and also a bit when I am angry. I am also very inspired by Japanese manga. All these elements are good things for my inspiration. 

Rapid-Fire Questions –

Personal fashion icon: Lady Diana

A song you have on repeat : Naruto music

Most memorable person you’ve dressed? Aishwarya Rai

Who do you want to see in Mossi? She’s dead, but it was Leila Janah

If you weren’t a designer, what would you do? Bollywood acting

What’s your power outfit? Indian Kurta