There is a difference between knowing fashion and understanding fashion. Hellessy designer Sylvie Millstein understands fashion. Growing up in France she was surrounded by the most iconic fashion and luxurious fabrications – with these references in mind and years of experience working at Chanel and Givenchy she developed her brand of luxe basics, essential to every woman’s wardrobe. Three years in, customers have come to expect impeccable fit and fabric from the brand. As I said, Millstein understands fashion, she knows women don’t want transparent tops or pieces that lose their shape, and they need looks that will carry them from day to evening.
What was it like to grow up in Paris as an aspiring designer?
I made the decision very early to enter the fashion industry through the business side. I followed the French system; and armed with a diploma in Marketing and Economics from HEC Business School, I got offers to work with the LVMH group and Chanel. Throughout my studies, I fed my passion by collecting an incredible amount of French fashion magazines, and to this day, I’ve kept clippings from the 80s and 90s including Claude Montana, Alaïa, Mugler, among many others.
Do you incorporate Japanese and French influences into your design aesthetic?
I probably do it unconsciously. Having grown up in Paris and having lived a decade in Japan, I do love minimalism and clean lines. However, I always include a seduction element. I guess you could say that I’ve developed an eye for the French way to be effortlessly chic and sexy.
What did you learn most working for major labels such as Chanel and Givenchy?
I learned a lot and grew a taste early for luxe fabrics as well as high-end construction and finishes. It helped me learn that quality is an essential part of luxury. I never compromise on a lining or the quality of a fabric; the clothes look impeccable on the inside and the outside.
How has your background as a buyer helped shape your perspective as a designer?
I viewed and analyzed the garments from the customers’ point of view: what works, what does not, a shoulder too strong or a seam that is not flattering, a print too loud or price too steep. Over my career, I saw the success or failure of tens of thousands of references and had to anticipate a year early what the customers would gravitate towards, so I did learn a lot from that, and I definitely apply it to Hellessy.
How do you challenge yourself season after season?
I always think about what a customer would like to find in her wardrobe after buying my latest collection. So things have to evolve, they won’t want to invest in a similar piece. Silhouette, colors and new craftsmanship all have to be renewed.
What was your customer looking for specifically that she found in Hellessy?
Classics revisited, timeless pieces with a modern twist and premium quality that will stand the test of time.
More and more luxury designers are choosing to manufacture their garments in the US, what are the obstacles you face in order to accomplish this?
We manufacture all of our woven garments in the NY Fashion district. We want to control the quality, but it comes at a price. It is very tough to be ‘Made in New York City’ and stay competitive.
You have a great grasp on matching the right fabric with the right silhouette to create garments with impeccable fit. How did you develop your technique?
My design process starts with the fabrics and yarns that I select first. They inspire me to sketch silhouettes and ideas for each fabric category. For me, this makes sense as it is all about the fabric, the fit and the lines – nothing fussy or overdone.
What inspired your SS16 Collection?
The urban summer sunset and the linear beauty of the city landscape as you see it from a rooftop.
What’s next for your brand?
Growth! I would love to extend my distribution internationally, and also introduce e-commerce. If all goes well, venturing into accessories would be the next chapter for Hellessy.