When I first came across one of Milena Silvano’s exquisite, handmade, patchwork sheepskin jackets, I was struck by the delicate nature of the color palette and drape of the skin. After a bit of research, I discovered Silvano helms her namesake womenswear label out of a rural part of East Sussex, UK and almost exclusively works with reclaimed and deadstock sheepskin which she dyes herself with plants grown on her land. Silvano has developed a line that perfectly marries her environment and values with a beautiful, interesting product created through a sustainable and ethical process.
Are you trained in fashion design?
Yes, I studied in Milan and London.
When did you design your first signature patchwork piece?
My first sheepskin collection was for AW10, but my first patchwork pieces were for AW12: I reworked vintage Del Boy coats into minimal shapes and intricate patchworks that were all sewn by hand.
How does your environment influence your work?
I live in a rural area of East Sussex and I am definitely influenced by the landscape and the community on an intuitive level. There is a wide anthroposophic community in my village and there is a specific use of colour in Steiner art that fascinates me and that I think I subconsciously try to channel in my dyes.
Do you enjoy being based outside of a major fashion city?
Living and working away from the London buzz is a blessing but also a bit limiting logistically.
Inspiration flows but at the same time it is hard to facilitate the growth of a business when you’re off the beaten track.
Every piece is handmade?
All my sheepskin coats are hand made. I start each piece by cutting and sewing together patchworks and then the garments are finished by a London manufacturer with specialist machinery.
What materials do you usually work with?
I love the contrast between sheepskin and feminine materials such as satin. I’m developing these two routes – patchwork sheepskin & hand dyed satin – for pieces that I hope people will perceive as timeless and seasonless.
I read you also grow the materials to produce your own dyes – can you describe this process?
I started growing plants from seed when I first moved out of London four years ago. For me the process was about learning, connecting and finding magic in nature. I experimented with garden flowers, herbs and weeds. I was dyeing with madder whilst tending to the madder plants in my garden. You cannot harvest roots from a young madder plant as the pigment does not develop for 2-3 years, but knowing I was tending to it made working with its (bought-in) pigment a wholesome experience.
Where do you source your sheepskin?
I work with reclaimed and deadstock sheepskin, although I have recently started buying in new skins. Some buyers like the flexibility of one off pieces but others like to know what they are going to get, so it’s important to be able to source skins on demand for wholesale orders.
Has it been tough to get stores or customers to understand the investment behind one of your pieces?
Some get it, some don’t.
How do you see the line evolving?
By taking steps back and focussing on fewer elements. I have made full collections in the past but as a (truly) independent designer there is only so much I can achieve and the future is about learning to accept my limits.