Entering the library of the Melissa shoe store in Covent Garden, I find Milligan Beaumont: sat cross-legged in a pair of denim flares, wearing a bright red cable-knit with a diamanté spider brooch, and bouncing her feet which are clad in black, red and violet velvet Vans she got off a guy in Clapton who “has all the best ones from the 70s”.
It’s on walking into the space, seeing Milli sprawled in a grand armchair in an even-more grand room, that I’m reminded of one of my fondest and earliest memories with her. It was a summer afternoon, like many spent at the Beaumont-household; I nervously entered the living room to find a panel of Pop Idol judges: Milli, her sister Molly and my own sister, Isobel. I sang Atomic Kitten’s ‘Whole Again’ and made it through the next round, so speaking with her today just isn’t quite as nerve-wracking as that experience for my 6 or 7 year old self.
We’re in Galeria Melissa to mark the launch of the ‘Melissa x Milbo’ exhibition in which Milli’s graduate collection, entitled ‘Skate Geisha’ has been lovingly curated by Ruby Pseudo. It evokes and represents Milli’s eclectic inspirations and imagination: there’s even a shelf which recreates her bedroom, full of polly-pockets, Pokemon and most notably the Bratz dolls we all cherished so much. For as long as I’ve known her, her most significant obsessions have been firstly, The Lord of the Rings which she is always rereading and secondly Japanese culture. The latter is explored to great effect in both the exhibition and Milli’s graduate collection, which demonstrate her utopian vision of the country she has never visited, and her expressive approach to fashion design: where she layers and collages textiles practices such as print, embroidery and most notably beading. It is a labour intensive artistry for which she received much press after sending her graduate collection gliding down the CSM catwalk, worn by Brighton skaters who had Milbo stick ‘n’ poke tats to suit.
Her work has been admired by many including Grayson Perry, but Milli is the first to admit that tackling the fashion industry after university, isn’t all private-views and fun, but a lot of hard work. Post-CSM she was “emotionally exhausted” and despite beginning a job working on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, straight after graduation, she decided to move back home to Barrow-upon-Soar in Leicestershire. It was only at the end of the summer that Milli received an email from Joyce, the renowned retailer in Hong Kong, showing interest in her work. “It all developed from there, and organising everything was quite a slow process of emailing back and forth. Joyce commissioned me to recreate pieces from my graduate collection and this proved to be the focus I needed. I felt, I can stay at home, save some money, I don’t have to rush and get a job in London for anyone.”
Not wanting to lose sight of the making, which she finds the most enjoyable part of the design process, she has kept the collection small, consisting of just 13 pieces, doing all the production herself and working with 2Surface on screen printing. “There have been so many learning curves,” she tells me. Like many creatives, Milli finds organisation difficult “I’m really dyslexic and I just want to make! It’s been challenging organising things, all the logistics like registering a trademark for China and keeping on top of emails. Even with the printing, the way I work in my head is quite abstract and spontaneous. Going forward I need to do prints which are just repeated digital or screen, which is simple for somebody to produce without my direction.” Such lessons are not always iterated whilst undergoing design studies, and we discuss how CSM focusses so much on producing students with such a clear design identity which lends itself well to brand-establishment, but the business side of things isn’t so easy for creatives to navigate. “I wish there was a summer course in it!” she laughs.
When I ask what some of the challenges have been in the recent months of developing her collection, she reveals “the beading!”. For the Joyce work, it hasn’t been as experimental as usual but more of a production line, she reflects. “All the beading seemed doable, but in retrospect, sitting in the studio in your house in Nottingham or in my front room, beading for the past however many months just wasn’t ideal. Thank god I had friends helping me out, as it can get lonely sometimes!” We then speak about how easy it is to take for granted the creative environment of school, “at Saint martins you get there at 8.30 and your mates are there and you have a coffee and a laugh. There’s drama, but that’s all the stuff that keeps you going!” Her frank honesty and unassuming nature is precisely what makes her so charming and appealing: I liken her to more of an artist than a designer, a notion supported by the creative potential of her work, all of which stand alone as beautiful objects in their own right.
This idea of design as art rings particularly true within the Melissa exhibition, where the kimono’s are suspended, showing off all the intricacy. “They’d never been displayed like that before” she tells me. Originally Milli intended to curate it herself, but given the demands of the Joyce collection, and not living in London, it was just not feasible. Ruby, who runs a consultancy business, took the time out of her schedule to organise it “she’s been my guardian angel!” For the event, a selection of Melissa shoes have been customised by Milli, which will go into the the archives, as she is an embassador for the brand: the benefits of which include getting 6 pairs of shoes a season. Within the exhibition itself, an element of interaction has been created: enabling customers to make their own origami hearts and pin up wishes on the wall. So what does Milbo herself wish herself for the future? “Once the Joyce collection is finished and this exhibition is done, I really need to take some time and think about my next move. I want to progress my work and develop the brand, sourcing production and potentially developing more commercial goods, like t-shirts and sneakers.”
She is the first to recognise that this is no easy feat. “Joyce have been so amazing giving me this opportunity, and hopefully it can develop from there”, for Milli, she desires to have fun with her products, crafting something experimental and expressive, working at a sustainable pace which the fashion industry doesn’t always provide. “In fashion, it’s so elitist and serious, I want to have fun and make my own art. I’m not dying to show at fashion week, but that’s partly because I’m quite nervous and insecure, so the idea of a show panics me. I hope I can get over that, going forward: it’s hard because you really have to promote yourself, and I’d just love to be tucked away, making and making!” Call her a visionary, but there’s no doubt about it that Milli is part of a generation and friendship group, with the likes of Mimi Wade and Dilara Findikoglu, who are tackling the current state of the system, regaining the artistry and craftsmanship all the while making beautiful garments.
For more of Milbo’s world follow her here on Instagram
Words by Lilah Francis
Photography by Jackson Bowley