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Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly
Michelle Smith with daughter Sophia.

Mad About Milly
Chic styles spanning the first year of …

Mad About Milly

Michelle Smith with daughter Sophia.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Chic styles spanning the first year of Milly Minis.

Mad About Milly

Mad About Milly

Milly designer Michelle Smith (right) coaches a student with professor Barbara Seggio at FIT.

Mad About Milly

Earnshaw’s caught up with Michelle Smith and got the skinny on the first year of her childrenswear offshoot, Milly Minis, and her role as a critic for FIT’s end-of-year fashion show. By Jennifer Cattaui Students are snipping, sewing, buttoning and embellishing up a storm when Michelle Smith, known by the fashion world as Milly, stops in to check on their progress. The 39-year-old critic for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) final show says she’s invigorated every time she watches a new crop of designers show their creativity through cloth at her alma mater. Smith was a critic last year for the ready-to-wear program, but – apropos to her recent foray into kids’ clothing through her spin-off label, Milly Minis, that launched last year – she’s been guiding the school’s childrenswear program students through the process of designing a collection this season.

The childrenswear crew was pretty nervous to meet such a huge fashion star, reports Barbara Seggio, childrenswear professor at FIT. But fears were quickly allayed: Student Alyssa Arcieri notes, “She was so cool, down to earth and relatable. She could be at a fabric mill in Italy or France, and it’s amazing that she’s here, making time to be with us.”

From the initial sketches and the muslin prototypes to actual fabric selection and construction, Smith gives advice and, in some cases, tips for sourcing resources. The designs selected by a panel of judges will be displayed on the catwalk on May 2 during the annual “The Future of Fashion” show at FIT. Of her experience as a critic, Smith says, “It’s such an honor. I love being able to give back to the institution that helped cultivate my skills as a designer.”

Milly (a childhood nickname for Smith) earned her chops working in luxury fashion as a sales associate at Hermès and was, notably, the first American intern at Hermès in Paris. Later, she continued her studies in Paris at ESMOD, a prestigious design school, and interned at several other luxury houses. “Each experience was special and assured me that I was making the right choice,” Smith says. “I’d highlight my time interning at Christian Dior Haute Couture in Paris as the moment I knew I’d be a designer,” she recalls. Her European stint involved combing through the archives of European textile mills, something she notes made her appreciate working with some of the finest fabrics in the world. Her retail experience, she adds, gave her better insight into the mind of the luxury customer, and she took time to study what factors influenced their purchase decisions.

Her women’s line has a Park-Avenue-meets-Palm-Beach feel, but it’s her children’s line that’s turning heads at private school interviews and parties these days. We chatted with Smith to hear a bit more about how she approached Milly Minis and her perspective on the future of fashion.

What is the trick to designing childrenswear?
Childrenswear designers have to channel the child within. They have to keep an open mind and youthful spirit to create clothes for kids. And most of all, they have to have fun.

What inspired you to create a childrenswear collection?
My daughter Sophia was my true inspiration for the collection. She was even a fit model. Overall, it was a natural progression to translate Milly’s signature bold prints and feminine-chic aesthetic to playful dresses for young Milly aspirants. Sophia loves fashion: When I get ready to go out at night, she is always playing dress-up in my closet. She’ll often visit our showroom and draw in my office while I’m sketching. Sophia is now 5. I also have a son, Will, who is 2.

Do you have a favorite garment in your fall collection?
It’s hard to pick a favorite because I love them all, of course. However, there is a bold lace print from the runway that I adapted into Milly Minis styles – my daughter wore the dress at my fall show.

What specific challenges have you faced going into the children’s market?
Perfecting the fit was a challenge. Besides that, it was a pretty seamless venture.

What do you think children need in fashion? How do your women and children’s lines relate?
Colors and prints! They should be able to express themselves through style, just like adults. Our children’s collection is created by adapting my ready-to-wear pieces into girls’ styles. The collection is created from the same couture fabrics and uses a lot of the same techniques [as the women’s line], and it’s also produced in the same factories as my women’s collections.

You’ve been in the market for more than 10 years – what have you learned during that time? What does it mean to be a premium global brand?
I take each collection at a time and learn with every new experience. It’s very important to maintain a consistent brand identity around the globe. I want my customers in Japan, Europe and beyond to receive the same Milly experience as they do in the U.S.

You design and produce the Milly kids’ line. Of course, a lot of brands turn to licensing firms to create their children’s lines – would you ever think of licensing it out?
I don’t think I would ever license out the collection. I’ve worked hard to create something I really believe in and want to see in every little girl’s closet.

What’s the key to a successful fashion brand? 
I think it’s important to stay true to your brand while evolving with the times. I am dedicated to making clothes for smart, sexy, feminine women and have built a loyal following. Now I am offering my clients more options with swimwear, handbags, accessories and clothing for their daughters. I look forward to continuing the successful momentum.

What’s the most exciting part of your business these days for you personally?
I am approaching the one-year anniversary of my flagship boutique on Madison Avenue. I love seeing my collections merchandised in the shop – it’s an extension of my personal style and interests. It’s really a special place, and I want my Milly customers to feel as if I’m welcoming them into my living room when they shop here.

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