An abundance of fresh product each month is helping sales soar for New York womenswear brand Milly.
Milly founder Michelle Smith certainly understands the need to feed retailers with new and exciting product – a process that dominates her time. Launched by Smith in 2000, the premium New York label introduces up to 100 new styles each month (a typical mini collection will feature eight to 12 fabric groups, with eight styles per group) in addition to the larger mainline.
All garments are made with Italian or Swiss fabrics in New York, and Smith, who also designs all her own prints, tries on every item herself before sanctioning its release to retailers. “The look is smart, sexy, polished, and very bold – I love to use colour and print,” says Smith of the Milly handwriting. “I’m always designing around my lifestyle.”
Although better known for her pretty 1960s-inspired dresses and coats in quirky prints and vibrant colours, Smith’s designs extend to a full collection including knits and separates. “There’s such a global dress movement at the moment,” she says. “But I’m excited about pants and skirts for spring 08.”
Milly also produces a full swimwear and resortwear collection, called Cabana, which is updated five times a year and includes bikinis, cover-ups, shorts and mini skirts.
One of Milly’s earliest UK adopters was online boutique Net-a-porter.com, which has stocked the brand for three years, while high-end indies Matches, Mimi and Flannels are all supporters. This season is the brand’s first in Selfridges, while Harrods, which already sells Milly swimwear, will stock the mainline from spring 08. UK sales are about £1 million against global sales of £17.5m for 2007. Smith’s husband and business partner Andy Oshrin is confident a projected sales growth of 20% in 2008 will be met, if not exceeded, but distribution will be kept tight.
Dresses typically retail for between £250 and £400, with coats rising to £550, placing it at the lower end of the designer price bracket along with fellow US labels 3.1 Phillip Lim and Diane von Furstenberg. But Smith, whose background is in luxury fashion, also sees Milly sitting comfortably alongside designer brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. Wholesale prices are about £100 for dresses and £170 for coats, though some shirts and knits start at about £60.
At the age of 18 and while studying at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Smith wrote to accessories brand Herm賠in Paris requesting an internship, which was granted. While in Paris she attended design school ESMOD and internships at Louis Vuitton, Torrente and Christian Dior followed.
With such a pedigree, a move into handbags might seem the next logical step for the label, but Smith remains cautious. Kidswear is the most likely next addition.
She is adamant too that to maintain the quality of her clothing she will continue to manufacture in New York, but with the depth of her range and Milly’s growing popularity, Smith may eventually need to branch out.
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