The playful globe bulbs of a Sputnik chandelier throw prisms of light against the white walls of a loft studio in Manhattan's Garment District, illuminating the colorful fashions, furnishings, and accessories that energize the spare vibe of the work space. Even when she begins with a neutral palette, color follows Michelle Smith everywhere. For the fashion designer and founder of the clothing line Milly, it's a hazard of the job.
"I wanted my studio to reflect the style of Milly--clean, smart, sexy, and glamorous," says Michelle, creator of polished designs with exuberant dashes of unexpected hues that have flattered the figures of celebrities such as Thandie Newton, Kelly Ripa, Anne Hathaway, and Beyoncé Knowles. .
Written by Jennifer Wilson
Photographs by Squire Fox
Produced by Jenny Bradley
The Milly design studio is the interior design equivalent of her clothing line--sophisticated, yet whimsical. Tailored, yet chic. She shoots for a minimalist edge in the wide-open spaces of this former factory. A clear glass desk and transparent Lucite chairs keep things low-key as Michelle sketches women in beautiful clothes--something she's been doing since she was 4 years old.
While living out her childhood dream, color--goldenrod, fuchsia, retro orange--seems to pop up everywhere. Not just in her fashions but in her decorating choices as well. Tufted chartreuse cushions perch on the chairs at her desk. The French love seat and matching chairs reupholstered in Milly's signature chain-link jacquard in shocking pink hint that Michelle may entertain the notion of one day venturing into the furniture-design world.
The large studio is also home to a showroom where Milly's latest offerings hang on display. Unfinished dresses and swaths of printed fabric whirl through the Milly studio like debutantes, part Lana Turner and part Holly Golightly.
Bolts of fabric await their transformation into beautiful frocks.
Michelle will never be accused of harboring a secret fear of bright color.
Though family comes first--daughter Sophia is a 2-year-old, and husband Andy is "the numbers guy" for the company--Michelle's career continues to gain momentum. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and at l'Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris, and she interned at Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior Haute Couture before launching Milly in 2000. Today, she puts together 12 ready-to-wear and five cabaña collections each year.
Color tips from fashion designer Michelle Smith:
Wear white after Labor Day--though in winter, choose ecru. "I tone it down with a black or chocolate brown cashmere sweater," says Michelle. "It's clean and chic--very Ali MacGraw."
In spring, pour on the color. Michelle advises: "A suntan--or faux tan--really sets off bright color."
Go earthy. This spring, fashion is inspired by the 1970s Bohemian jet set. Look for spicy browns, olives, mustard, and gold accents--all melded with jewel tones.
Flatter your figure. "Dark monochrome can be slimming, but head-to-toe white is difficult if you don't have a perfect figure," says Michelle.
Don't be afraid of color! When adding accessories to a more conservative palette, be bold. This spring, Michelle's collection includes hand-beaded cardigans in lavender, watermelon, and citron.