Hellessy: Laid-back glamour from Manhattan to Miami
Not every designer inspires to be a revolutionary artist. Some have more direct goals, like creating empowering and wearable clothes for multiple situations. Case in point: Hellessy, a brand founded by expert merchandiser Sylvie Millstein in her own Soho studio in 2012, which has won a loyal following for its pared-down elegance.
Born and raised in Paris, Millstein moved with her family to Manhattan after a brilliant long career as a top merchant, including stints with Chanel, Givenchy, and Harrods in Europe. And even in Japan, where this half-Japanese creator further developed her refined sense of luxury.
Each Hellessy collection is produced locally and ethically in New York, with an acute attention to detail. Hellessy is all about the laid-back glamour of Lower Manhattan. Millstein’s designs for Hellessy have appeared in US Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar, and she counts Emily Ratajkowski, Priyanka Chopra, Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart and Rihanna as fans of the marque.
For next spring she showed easy and nonchalant dresses in materials like fuchsia satin that “just wrapped around the butt,” as Sylvie put it. Summer suits with rolled-up sleeves and little pocket squares; great jersey bustiers in exaggerated volumes made of cotton jersey jacquard. And mingled in archival materials from top notch resources like Hurel in Paris used in novelty chinos.
Hellessy, a finalist for the 2016 US International Woolmark, joined the CFDA in 2019. She has yet to have major impact in Europe, but already boasts mega stockists like Neiman Marcus, Farfetch and Lane Crawford. After many years in New York, she and her husband, a private equity executive, recently paid $22 million for a waterfront estate in Gables Estates, according to real estate websites.
So, we caught up with Millstein in a recent Zoom on all things Hellessy.
FashionNetwork.com: Where are you calling from exactly?
Sylvie Millstein: I relocated the family to Miami, so from Coral Gables.
FNW: But you did base your house in Soho?
SM: Yes, the studio is still there at Lafayette [Street].
FNW: What did you learn at global brands that you apply to Hellessy?
SM: I worked in fashion as a fashion director for Chanel, and with McQueen and Harrods - mainly working for big houses. I was about to take on another senior merchant position when I realized my passion as to be creative and have my own label.
FNW: Why the name Hellessy?
SM: I was having children and I imagined the clothes I would wear in my new life. Hellessy comes from my two sons’ names - Hendrix and Lennox.
FNW: How did you begin your career as a designer?
SM: I had no knowledge of how to make a garment, pattern making or fabrics. I had to knock on doors in the fashion district. I made it the hard way. But over years I had learned what women wanted in terms of price and material. I started in 2012 but took a year to make an actual collection, marketing it in my own apartment in Soho. I love downtown – the inspiration for my daily life and melting pop of energies. I dress a cool downtown woman with a little edge – who wants to make an impression and has a busy social life but yet projects a relaxed attitude.
FNW: What do you want people to think when they wear your collection?
SM: I want to empower women, so my ideas do not come from fantasies. I want women to walk into these clothes – to look beautiful and sexy. I like long sleeves and beautiful necklines. Clothes where she wants to grab them out of her wardrobe as she goes off to lunch. This season, I was inspired by the Superblue art exhibit and James Tyrell installation in Miami. That really informed the collection.
FNW: Have you any plans to do menswear?
SM: No, though my husband does ask. But I do love to reinvent the classics – especially men’s white shirts. In last collection I made many oversized ones with embroideries and holes, so the sleeves draped beautifully.
FNW: Where are you from in Paris?
SM: From Versailles and I moved to Japan when I graduated from business school. I am half-Japanese and ended up falling in love and then never left. I started as an internal buyer in Japan which was then our biggest market and witnessed huge expansion – as I travelled to Paris once a month.
FNW: Where were your last three vacations?
SM: Turks and Caicos [Islands]; Aspen to enjoy the summits and mountains. We have four boys – aged 12, 10 and twins of four.
FNW: Your favorite three designers?
SM: Rick Owens – I have large archives of very old pieces! I love what Demna is doing at Balenciaga; and Pierpaolo at Valentino for the colors.
FNW: And restaurants?
SM: Mr. Chow in Soho, Lure Fishbar and Sant Ambroeus.
FNW: Do you drive a car?
SM: Now I have moved to Miami I have to learn!
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