Ludovica Virga Her Dolls Of Fame And The House Of Mua Mua

The 645: Where did you grow up?

Ludovica: A small town not so far from Milano. It’s called Parma I grew up there.
Maybe you know it, because we make Parma ham and Parma cheese.

The 645: When did you move to Bali?

Ludovica: After university I studied business, I have a doctorate in business finance, but I hated it.
I wanted to be a fashion designer so badly, but I couldn’t because no one would ever offer to put me in a creative studio.

I left, I actually told my dad I was going for an MBA in America, but instead I took the money and ran and never made it to the MBA. But I went everywhere else. I lived in Hawaii, Venezuela, Mexico. Then I ended up in Miami and New York, and I studied fashion for maybe like two weeks. (Laughs)

Then I called my Dad and said I really want to be a designer you can not stop me, and I’m going to be frustrated all my life if you don’t let me do it, and this will all be your fault.
This after I already stole the money.
My dad said ok. My friend is one of the Ministries of Bangladesh. You can go to Bangladesh because his son has a garment industry and you can learn the business.

So I went, at the age of 24, never been to a Muslim or 3rd world country before. I did my first collection, I would be very embarrassed to show you, like mini skirts the size of a belt. (Laughs)
Things like that, I was very young.

Then with the rest of the money that my dad gave me, I came to Bali to see my friends for the holidays. My girlfriend was an intern at Dsquared, at the time Dsquared was booming. She went to the owner of the Italian brand, all dressed up with her boobs out and she told him you must have a fashion show for Ludo. Ludo is the rising star of Italian fashion with those mini skirts. They believed it. They were drooling, they would do anything she wanted.
So we had a little fashion show with Claude Challe playing. It was a great setting but the collection was not good, unfortunately.
But somebody saw the show anyway, said he was an agent and he took my brand over, we probably sold to four clients. (Laughs)

To continue my story, one day I was on the dancefloor and met a guy, as you do in Bali, and we were dancing and he asks me what do you do for a living. He was American, they ask you how much do you earn for a living and things like that.
In Italy or England, you can’t ask things like that.
I said I’m a fashion designer. He was like “oh wow that’s what you do for a living?”
He asked me how many pieces do I make per year, and I was like okay think bigger and replied, “500, We are a very small brand.”
He said, “For 500 you don’t need to do it in Bangladesh you can do it in Bali and I’ll teach you how.” He was also a designer.
Then I came back and started doing the business here.
Things you do when your 24.

The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia
The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia

The 645: Was it scary moving to Bali at 24?

Ludovica: I’ve been stabbed with a knife in my villa while I was alone the night after the show. That was the only time but that was scary. I left the day after because I was in shock.

The 645: How did that happen?

Ludovica: A guy came to my house with a knife saying shut up and I started screaming, and my friends were about to come for dinner, so he only missed them for like 5 minutes. Then I was running away, and he was chasing me, like in The Shining, with the knife. Yeah, that was very scary.

The 645: What was your first job?

Ludovica: Yeah, that was pretty much my first job in fashion. In Italy, you pretty much don’t have to work growing up, your parents provide till your 40. (Laughs)
I’m sure you heard that the kids don’t move out till they are 40 in Italy.

Once I spent my money on mathematics private lessons. I had to do a show to get the money back to pay my teacher, but besides that, I never worked, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s very Italian.

The 645: So, you studied Fashion?

Ludovica: For a week, I think it that doesn’t count. No, I studied business at a really proper private university in financial math, with a doctorate in economics.

The 645: So why not economics, why fashion?

Ludovica: Why would a girl want to play with numbers when she can play with dresses and pretty things.

The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia

The 645: How did the brand get started?

Ludovica: I had this brand that was more floral boho-chic years before, and then Bali had this touristic attack. The beach vendors were jobless because no one was here to buy anything. So I was the only person on the beach, and the vendors tried to sell these bikinis, so I bought one to support them on the first day. Later on, I was like guys they don’t look good on anybody. So please make me some monsters.

I designed these little doll monsters that were my friends- the gay angel, the cocaine addict elephant, the ugly mermaid, the DJ, the groupie. I had all these little characters made for me and I brought them to a show with my brand. Nobody bought the brand but there was an order made for three thousand pieces of these little doll puppets. We didn’t even know if the village could make them, so we worked all through Christmas and made the first three thousand dolls.

A few years after that I wanted to be a stylist, as I didn’t know what to do with my life. A friend of mine Sophia had a magazine called Unfair one of the first magazines in the Middle East that has sadly closed. Yet she assigned me as the Italian correspondent, and I was going to all the shows and living that beautiful life.

 Then I became super good friends with the creative director of jewellery at Chanel. She loved Bali and used to come here every year.

So I was invited to the Chanel shows, sometimes they would fly you to shows and they would treat you like a princess. They had a show in Venice and somehow my friend told them I was an Italian celebrity, before Instagram days. They sent me a dress and the jewellery and said you can keep the jewellery after the show.

I felt that Karl gave me a present, so I had to give him one in return. I designed one of the puppets to look like him as a gift and gave it to him at a gala show. Karl didn’t really eat at these events as he wanted to stay skinny, so at the gala dinner, Karl was sitting with his doll in his hand and would not let it go, and all the press took pictures of that, that’s how all of a sudden this doll was everywhere.

The 645: What was Karl Lagerfeld like?

Ludovica: Super super kind, and generous. So much that after 6 months he ordered 700 dolls for the launch of the Karl Lagerfeld brand.
That was my first big order, then we made enough money to start the business.

The 645: Where does the brand name come from?

Ludovica: Mua Mua. (Laughs) Before WhatsApp, Instagram, and social media it was how I signed my SMSs, MUA MUA Ludo. It means, kiss kiss in Italian.
House of Mua Mua is because the dolls were everywhere, having them in Harrods was a great source for advertising. I still really wanted to be a designer so I changed the name.

The first name was Mua Mua Dolls, then I changed it because people did not recognise the brand as a clothing brand, they would still think it was only the dolls. So I took the dolls away for a season, which is the time when Fashion Week gave me a show. Then in 2017, nearly a year and a half ago, I designed dresses for the show and we named it the House of MUA MUA.

The 645: What’s the brand’s identity?

Ludovica: To make girls happy and save the world.

The 645: Who do you aspire to?

Ludovica: That’s difficult.
If I was Miss Italy I would tell you it was my grandpa and I want peace in the world. (Laughs)
But since I’m not, sadly my favourite designers are all dead- Franco Moschino, Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, and Alexander McQueen. Unfortunately, now with Karl, they are all gone.

The 645: Where would you like to have the brand in the world?

Ludovica: Bali gave me so much I can’t leave it.

But we have moved the production, the stitching part, to Italy, yet all the oils and embroidery are still going to be made in Indonesia.

The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia
The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia
The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia

The 645: So will there be a shop opening in Italy?

Ludovica: I think we might open a shop two seasons from now in Capri Italy. Maybe a popup in Soho
New York. But I’ll see how it goes.

The 645:What music are you currently listening to?

Ludovica: I don’t know. I like electronic music.
I don’t really listen to music to work, I’d rather I listen to music when I’m travelling.
I think I’m still stuck to the 80s, suits my personality.
The 80s is really me because it’s fun.
I think life should be something like a song from The Cure, carefree and happy.

The 645: What are you reading at the moment?

Ludovica: I’m reading very cheesy books. At this very moment, I’m reading a foreign book about Barcelona, it’s a mystery by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I really like his books it’s the third one.

The 645: How about your favourite food?

Ludovica: Chocolate, ice cream, and salami

The 645: Your least favourite food?

Ludovica: Stinky Cauliflower, also that dry stinky fish they have in Indonesia, they have it for breakfast here. (Laughs)

The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia
The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia

The 645: Who’s the brand’s muse?

Ludovica: Probably Franco Moschino. We’ve lost a genius, he was more of an artist than a designer. Similar to Alexander Mcqueen, he was dark as opposed to Moschino.

The 645:Where is the brand in terms of sustainability?

Ludovica: We are trying to do a lot.

I mean you’re here in Bali so you saw the plastic on the beaches. You might have seen that Bali doesn’t give plastic bags anymore in the shops. That happened because two little girls at the age of 15 did a hunger strike to convince the governor of Bali to ban the plastic bags.

It took them a couple of years, today their organisation is called Bye Bye Plastic Bags. I support them and we’re designing a collection together to present at the green carpets in Milano. And of course, all made from recycled plastic.

 These two girls are amazing they had a Ted talk with more than a million viewers, they also won the young heroes prize at the BBC.

They went dressed in House of Mua Mua.
I’m very proud and we are going to do collaborate on something together.
I think it’s very important as we are destroying the planet.

The 645: Where are you showing next?

Ludovica: At Shanghai for Fashion Week.

Oh, I travel so much I wish I could stay put. I’ve slept just a few days in my own bed in the last few months.
It’s not like the old days as a designer, it’s more like you’re in a rock band.
I was in Egypt, then Milan, Paris and I just skipped New York.

It’s exhausting fashion week, it’s the industry forcing designers to create something new every 3 months, which I think is killing creativity in a way.

The full story with fashion designer Ludovica Virga at her home in Bali, Indonesia

The 645: Who recently wore the brand.

Ludovica: I think we have reached our peak with Kim Kardashian.
The funniest thing to see was Whoopi Goldberg on TV wearing my ‘I don’t give a shit’ slogan jumper. She’s amazing.

The 645: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Ludovica: I have no idea. I live day by day.

I think the brand has to grow 5 times more than where it stands today and then it’ll be an official brand. For now, it’s still up and coming as a brand and its designers.

We’ve crossed the first 5 years which is critical for a brand. After you survive that, they say you are stable. But we all still self-produce, we have 40 people working for us in-house in Bali. We also use 500 beaders on the outside, they’re all working in the countryside. We love that it’s all women that otherwise would not have a job because they have to take care of their children and houses. So we bring the job to them.


Words: Tatyana Chmaissani
Photo: Ioannis Koussertari