Mirror Palais Is in the Business of Creating Magic Through Clothes

·12 min read

Marcelo Gaia keeps making hit after viral hit. Here's how he's woven the fantasy of Mirror Palais.

Mirror Palais' biggest viral success story was almost a disaster.

When designer Marcelo Gaia posted a TikTok of the brand's Fairy Dress — a glittery mini that creates the illusion of its wearer donning nothing but sparkles — in early 2021, he didn't necessarily expect for it to blow up the way it did. "I'd been on TikTok all of Covid, not posting anything at all, just being an observer," he says. This "studying," as he puts it, prepared him to create something that had a real shot at going viral. "I picked the perfect angelic baby [music] and I posted it. All of a sudden, I started seeing these numbers of new humans that I'd never seen in my life before.... I clicked on it and it said 100,000. Then 100,000 turned into 500,000, then a million."

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Gaia knew he had something special with the Fairy Dress. He'd been working on it since the previous summer, almost a year after launching Mirror Palais. The idea first manifesting after watching "Thumbelina," he says: "There's a part where she's singing about the fairy that she's in love with — it's like a daydream, and he evaporates into sparkles. I was like, 'What if there was a dress that looked like you were naked, except your body was sparkling?'"

The first sample didn't arrive until the beginning of January. At that point, he and his team were so excited about it, Gaia decided to share it. “I put the flash up on my phone, and all I did was [record]," he says.

The Fairy Dress launched as part of Collection II, Mirror Palais' sophomore offering, which Gaia describes as "just bold, balls-to-the-wall fantasy." The pre-order on that style, specifically, though, saw the "biggest numbers yet" — "all of a sudden," he says, "I had all of this cashflow come in and all of these orders that I had to produce, and I'd never produced this many before."

This is when the Mirror Palais team faced its first big crisis. When the initial run of Fairy Dresses arrived at the brand's downtown office to be shipped out to customers, something was off. "Everything is fit on all of the girls, but all of a sudden, [one person's] size wasn't fitting her," he says. Turns out, every single dress — hundreds of garments — had been cut along the wrong grain line.

Because Mirror Palais operates on a pre-order model, customers had already been waiting a while on their pieces; now, they'd have to wait even longer. Another issue: Even though Mirror Palais hadn't gone into production on the Fairy Dress, its viral introduction on TikTok spurred many a fast-fashion knock-off. "At that point, that dress was all over the internet, but no one had ever worn it before," Gaia says.

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The designer chose to address the problem head-on, with "complete and utter humble transparency."

"I said, 'There's something wrong with these dresses. If you would like your money back, we will give it back to you right now. If you would like to give us your patience, we're working on a solution to make these dresses fit, and we will have them for you in this amount of time,'" he says. "There were some cancellations, for sure, but for the most part, everyone's like, 'I've been waiting this long, I'm getting my Fairy Dress.' We added an additional panel, so if I ever come across one, one day, somewhere, and it has that panel, I'll know it's from that first batch of orders, where we had to literally cut them open and add more fabric to make them fit."

The Fairy Dress fiasco turned out to only be a bump in the road for Mirror Palais. Born and bred in Queens, Gaia launched the brand in the fall of 2019, following the closure of Rosemilk, another "Instagram famous" label he had founded with his best friend.

"Everything I had learned from 10 years of styling, I put into that business. It was my first time designing and selling product," he says of Rosemilk. "With Mirror Palais, I wanted to take what I was doing there and dial it up by a hundred. I wanted to create an elevated product for a sophisticated, unique customer who’s so thoughtful, creative and inspired by art, culture and vintage. I wanted to streamline that into one package."

There wasn't much "infrastructure" to glean from Rosemilk, Gaia says. (He brought on a business consultant to help establish the framework for Mirror Palais.) He did learn how to build relationships in New York City's Garment District, which he still relies on today, and how to start a company. It also confirmed to him that following his gut instinct when it came to designing wouldn’t lead him astray.

"I learned, through Rosemilk, that I had something so special inside of me to share, and that the more I unzip myself and the more layers I expose, the more people are interested in me," he says. "I went into that business not knowing that I had value and not knowing that my ideas were [special]; I left knowing that what I have to say is interesting, relatable and inspiring, and that it grabs people's attention. I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to bare it all.' Any sort of holding back that I was doing in the last brand, I decided to leave behind and go full force and make whatever the fuck I want to make."

Mirror Palais recently debuted Collection III. There are plans for a New York Fashion Week debut.

"I want to be embraced by the fashion industry. I feel like I'm embraced by Gen Z on social media, but I want to play the role. I want to be a part of what people would identify as New York fashion," Gaia says of his runway ambitions. "I've dreamed about it forever. When I was really pretty young, I started getting into fashion and would go to fashion shows with my friend whose mom was an editor for Japanese publications. One of the first shows I went to was Cushnie et Ochs, and I just thought it was the coolest fucking thing I ever saw in my whole fucking life. My heart was pounding. It was just so exciting. The clothes were so cool, the models were so cool, and the music was so cool. I was just like, 'This is the ultimate form of fashion, allowing the designer to tell their story.'"

<p>Mirror Palais Collection III. Photo: Anafer Flores/Courtesy of Mirror Palais</p>

Mirror Palais Collection III. Photo: Anafer Flores/Courtesy of Mirror Palais

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Gaia is currently in the process of growing the team, hiring for positions that'll help improve Mirror Palais' product and scale the business.

"We're really good at selling clothes. The demand is there. There's less of a creative need — where we were lacking was organization, so one of the first things I do when I add people to my team is get them to own their departments, instead of having everyone wearing so many hats," he says. "Of course, with a small business, you're still always going to have that. But right now, my goal is to do a runway show, so I know where I need the most muscle is in developing samples… I'm bringing on a technical designer so that my fittings can go by quicker. I'm looking for someone I'm going to be able to say to, 'Let's get this to fit on so-and-so,' and when the next sample comes out, it fucking fits." He also hopes this hire will help with getting more people into Mirror Palais; the brand currently goes up to a 2X in select pieces only. (His advice for small business owners hiring for specific roles: "In interviews, I'm asking questions that relate directly to issues that I've had in the past — 'Tell me, are you able to do this?'")

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced New York — and the world — to shut down in the spring of 2020, Gaia was barely six months into his business. It was still a very small enterprise, so it didn't take as strong of a hit as other brands. But that's not to say the pandemic didn't have an impact.

"It forced me to get organized," he says. He had decamped from New York City to Cape Cod, and essentially ran the business from there (and over the mail). "At the time, I wasn't working with any factories, just with sample-makers on our made-to-order. I would pay for the fabric over the phone, have it delivered [to my sample-makers], they would cut and sew the garments, they would ship them to me, then I would ship them to the customer."

What really grew during that time was Mirror Palais' social media presence. At press time, the brand boasts over 323K followers on Instagram and 219.2K on TikTok. Beyond sharing its latest drops, Gaia often posts what's inspiring him or what he's thinking about, sometimes speaking directly to the customer about the process of creating a dress, what happens in a fitting and why the clothes cost how much they cost. And that's very much intentional.

"It's like a friendship: You have an amazing night out or an amazing trip and you bond and get closer, but there's the in-between where you have to maintain a friendship — a funny phone call or text thread. That's how I continue to connect with people, by sharing everything that touches me. There isn't always a new product that I'm selling," he says.

The first Mirror Palais product to go viral was its underwire top, which was released in late 2019. When that happened, Gaia committed to posting every day, which he considers "a major turning point." Amid global lockdowns, that connection became even more important.

"No one had anything to do except be on their phones. I was sharing all of my dreams with people, and it was resonating. It was going viral," he says. "I was connecting with people with what I was making, and I was able to get it to them — I wasn't able to get it to them right away, and people were understanding about Covid delays, but I was able to do transactions with people, and it helped fund the business. The business started off profitable. Within the first launch, I recouped everything I had invested into the business, and I have been green ever since."

Collection II — the one the Fairy Dress was a part of — arrived in the spring of 2021. It reflects a "color explosion" we saw in 2020, when "we were looking for some kind of excitement," according to Gaia.

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"With the design, I wanted to use a lot of color. Then I was over that because I felt like, in some ways, how much wear can you get out of a lime green skirt if you're not a lime green girl?," he says. "People who wear the same color — I love those people. But I was like, 'Why don't I try to focus on making clothes that people can wear a lot?' That was the thinking and the progression, from me trying to get people's attention to shifting into Collection III, where I was like, 'I have their attention. Now I just want to see them wearing their clothes over and over and over and over and over again.'"

Gaia designs Mirror Palais with versatility at the forefront, something that can be traced back to his career as a stylist. You'll notice that in little ways throughout the collection, like with the abundance of straps.

"I used to do it because I was afraid of a commitment," he says of the many straps of Mirror Palais. "My pattern-maker would be like, 'How long do you want the string?' The first time, I said, 'Just make it really long and I'll cut it.' Then I started realizing that the cutting never happened. I was just leaving them long. And every time someone would put it on, they would see the string and start doing something with it."

He continues: "Having something to play with makes the garments more interesting and fun. You can create more tension around the body and drop your shoulder. You can create a halter. It came more out of a place of being unsure of myself, and maybe the stylist in me seeing that versatility is beneficial. Now, when I develop, rather than go too far in the direction of something, I need to know that there are options. That comes from me having women as friends my whole life, sitting in their rooms, watching them get dressed and choosing what to wear, seeing that every day was different. Like, not every day you're going to want to wear the pushup bra. Some people will never wear the push-up bra."

Despite now having multiple viral successes under his belt at Mirror Palais — plus the fact that both Dua Lipa and J.Lo have worn the brand in music videos, and Kylie Jenner announced her second pregnancy in the Grand Finale Gown — Gaia doesn't concern himself with constantly chasing what's next.

"People have asked me, 'What's the next underwire top? What's the next Fairy Dress?' I don't think that way," he says. "I'm not trying to make my next bestseller. I'm just trying to make things that are beautiful."

Ultimately, Gaia's goal is simple: "I'm a people-pleaser — I think that's actually pretty obvious. I just want to be happy and for everyone who works for me and anyone who has anything to do with making my clothes to be happy."

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