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NYFW: Emerging American label to watch - Hellessy

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

8 Feb 2019

In 2012, French-Japanese designer Sylvie Millstein founded Hellessy, a New York-based womenswear label with a focus on pared-back elegance that shines through its sophisticated refined pieces for the perfect day-to-night styling.

Millstein, who has previously worked at Givenchy and Chanel has captured the “more is more” trend, making her ready-to-wear pieces glamorous, while still keeping to the aesthetic that her customers want to be “dressed but not precious” with feminine colour combinations, statement detailing and impeccable fits.

Her approach to redefining what separates mean in a woman’s wardrobe has made the label a firm celebrity favourite, with fans including Gwyneth Paltrow, Priyanka Chopra, Tessa Thompson, Rihanna, Gemma Chan, Martha Hunt, Lily James, and Kate Bosworth.

Five Minutes With… Sylvie Millstein founder of Hellessy

Ahead of her autumn/winter 2019 catwalk show as part of New York Fashion Week and the birth of her twin boys, FashionUnited caught up with Millstein over e-mail to understand more about the direction of her emerging American womenswear label, plans for the future, as well as what to expect from her newest collection.

What inspired you to launch Hellessy?

“After over a decade spent optimising merchandising and sales at Chanel and Givenchy, I wanted to get to the creative side and apply my merchandising expertise to design a ready-to-wear collection which speaks to a customer looking for a new designer proposition for social and evening dressing. At that time, I myself was searching for more relevant wardrobe options which fit the context of my day as a working mother of two with a busy social calendar in New York City.”

Where does the name come from?

“Hellessy was created using the first syllables of my two elder sons’ names and mine; Hendrix, Lennox, Sylvie (I have 2 more boys on the way). A name close to my heart. My family plays a very important role in my life and these values show through within my work so it made sense to incorporate into the brand.”

How has your luxury merchandising background with Chanel help?

“Tremendously, knowledge of luxury fabrics, finishings and cut got me a head start, but my understanding of what resonates with the customer, after years analysing it at Chanel, is really what drives my creativity.

“I do not create to fulfil a fantasy or for pure creative purpose, I always create with my customer in mind - What does she desire? What is missing in her wardrobe? What complements the different moments of her day?”

How do you approach your designing?

“It all starts with fabrics. I develop custom print, patterns and colours with Italian mills and I start sketching for each fabric category. I sketch about a hundred new ideas of silhouettes each season then edit them down to the strongest - I like to experiment with novel silhouettes in unexpected fabrics - a gown made in crocheted jersey, or trompe l’oeil drape and juxtaposition of fabrics such as a silk drop top with a half cotton oxford mens shirt tucked into it.

“Colour is key to the process, every colour shade and combination is really dialled in to compliment the body and skin while also delivering that Hellessy individuality.”

Who is the Hellessy woman?

“She is confident in her style and socially busy, her wardrobe has to make sense within her lifestyle. She wants to make an entrance, but her day requires an ease and practicality to her dressing. That balanced with a hint of seduction, femininity and comfort. My design propositions include separates sets that can be worn differently with an elevated jeans or a simple basic T-shirt. She is modern and looking forward with her dressing, not backwards.”

What can we expect from the upcoming autumn/winter 2019 collection set to show at New York Fashion Week?

“Unexpected but ultra luxe fabrics in fluid yet sculptural silhouettes. There is always an element of surprise or a peculiar detail to my designs, but this season it is also applied to my choice of model, music and venue. The mood and weights keep in mind the delivery period which is very transitional in terms of how our customer is shopping between the months of July - November.”

How do you prepare for fashion week?

“Lots of short but sweet family times helps balance the madness of show prep. My family inspires me and provides the release to be clear and more creative.”

Any plans for retail openings? UK expansion to add to Selfridges?

“We are still very much in a formative stage of development and are still considered a niche discovery which I find very special at this time. The focus is really on sustaining and further developing within our current wholesale accounts, many of which have been added within the last three years.

“These partnerships have been very supportive and given us amazing insight and access to our woman. She is coming back season to season to complete her wardrobe with signature Hellessy pieces and creating an overall demand for the brand in her region. Through her life web and social media, the brand has been exposed to new regions and established an inquiry in which we can build on. Asia/Australia, Middle East, Eastern Europe and also new countries in Europe like Germany and Italy are looking like natural next steps of distribution.

“In terms of future retail, this would first be explored through a specialised shop fit within the right retail partner space; a more precious experience.”

What are Hellessy’s immediate goals for 2019?

“Evolve the collection in a way which motivates our current women and also inspire new customers to take the leap into our world. Specifically Resort 2020, we will expand into a larger knitwear offering to mirror the strong identity and success of our blouses.

“Oh and transition with the expansion of my family with the arrival of my twin boys three days after my show.

Hellessy has become a global womenswear label with stockists in America, Canada, the UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia, with key retail partners including Net-A-Porter, Neiman Marcus, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols Dubai, and Selfridges.

Images: courtesy of Hellessy