MILLY Designer Michelle Smith on Her Love Affair with New York and Fashion

  • Michelle Smith has taken the traditional New York Event Season party dress to the next level. Gone are lace panels, velvet ribbons and traditional takes on party wear. Instead, a fresh modern element has invigorated Ms. Smith’s MILLY spring collection. Known for her bold colors and attention to detail, Ms. Smith reveals her inspiration for modernizing a classic and distinct look. She recently launched this new collection, focused on traditional femininity with pieces designed to enhance a woman’s hourglass figure. Here’s the latest from Ms. Smith:

    What inspired you to start your own fashion range, as there a gap in the market that you felt able to create for?

    I always knew I wanted to design—from the time I was a child, I would sketch fashion illustrations on the kitchen floor. My mother was very encouraging and brought up the idea of going to Paris for design school very early, which was something I worked towards. I later headed to NYC to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology—I supported myself by working at the Hermes boutique on Madison Avenue.

    When I graduated, I wrote to the President of Hermes asking for an internship and he granted it to me—I was the first American to work in the Paris office, which was thrilling. My experience there led to more internships at legendary fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior Haute Couture. I studied at ESMOD design school in Paris and upon graduation, I returned to New York to begin my career.

    I launched MILLY soon after—my signature design technique merges American sportswear silhouettes with Parisian atelier style.

    I use luxurious, cutting edge European fabrics in my collection, and I design many of my own prints—I place a great deal of emphasis on custom hardware as well—details are important to me. I travel to Spain, Italy and France myself to choose the fabrics for my collection.

    Why was it so important for you to manufacture in New York?

    One of the greatest benefits of producing in the US is that I have a better handle on quality control. My sampling room is located one floor below my studio in the heart of the Garment District. While price points are higher when you produce domestically, I believe we deliver better quality to our customers in the long run.

    What are the key elements of a New York woman’s style, that you aim to interpret through your collections?

    New York women know what they want—they take fashion risks and they look for attainable luxury. MILLY is advanced, bold, feminine with an edge, with luxurious fabrics and vibrant prints.

    What aspects of living in New York inspire your work?

    While New York is always evolving, so is my collection—each season there’s something new.