On September 7, Milly presented its Spring/Summer 2019 collection, “Metamorphosis,” at Spring Studios in New York. The vibrant collection, inspired by the confident and courageous women of today, was presented with a series of bold looks. Bright orange pleated dresses, metallic jackets, and raincoats with long fish tails were seen floating down the runway, vitalizing both the models and the crowd to the beat of hip-hop music.
Special for this collection, as well, was designer Michelle Smith‘s collaboration with New York-based artist Tara Lewis. Known for her realistic portraits (some featuring models wearing T-shirts with sayings like “WESTERN BARBIE” and “LOVE”), Lewis created a “HA, HA, HA” shirt for Milly. Seen with text in a variety of colors, the shirt popped under mesh pullovers, and paired with bright skirts or simple trousers.
After the show, we chatted with Smith and Lewis about their collaboration, and the bright new collection.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about your new collection. It’s so colorful and fun!
MICHELLE SMITH: It’s about embracing change in your life and flying forward into a new stage and really going for it. The color palette’s very vibrant, it’s very positive. The fabrics are futuristic—looking to the future.
WW: Women today are facing hardships, so a “metamorphosis” is important. Who is the collection for? What do you want your wearer to feel?
MS: When women wear my clothes, I want them to feel confident, empowered, beautiful inside and out. I think we constantly have to evolve and change and embrace that, or else we get nowhere. This collection is about really embracing change and moving into a new and exciting stage in your life.
WW: Tell us a little bit about why you wanted to work with Tara. You two met on Instagram, right?
MS: I love Tara. And I love her paintings. She’s so cool! A mutual friend introduced us, and I started stalking her on Instagram. Actually, I was stalking her on Instagram before we were introduced. I loved her paintings, and the attitude of her paintings. The realness, the attitude…it’s refreshing, it’s bold, it’s irreverent, and I think it jives really well with my brand.
So, we met and we got along really well. We instantly clicked and started hanging out. I wanted to collaborate with her for tee shirts and we wanted to pull the tee shirts literally out of her paintings and put them on the runway.
WW: And she did the “HA, HA, HA” series before this collection, so why did you want that one instead of another work?
MS: It’s a little personal message. Like, “Haha! I’m going to rise above.”
WW: Do you have a favorite piece?
MS: That’s so hard. They’re all like my babies! I’m wearing one of my favorites. This was the foundation for the collection. The fabric is a simple and rectangular shape, the fabric, that falls bias and it represents our solid foundation as women and being ready to step into a new stage in our life. I took this shape and I manipulated it in different ways throughout the show. I pleated it, I pinned it, I bustled it.
WW: Tara, tell us a little bit about collaborating with Michelle and what that synergy was like.
TARA LEWIS: I think the synergy was probably rooted in the fact that we’re both artists. Musicians, writers, fashion designers, painters—we’re all artists and creative people. So, there was some symbiotic creative magnet on Instagram. It was mutual stalking. And I related to her “fresh now” approach to her work and its evolving and relating to different social issues, and what’s happening in the world. She addresses those in a very creative way and it’s very uplifting and inspiring.
That’s why I love the T-shirts we made, because they send messages that are inclusive and universal. And anyone can wear the apparel. Everybody can “HA, HA, HA” their own way. I know that I text it sometimes, but I don’t really mean it. We laugh. It’s really an uplifting thing and can be defined different ways from different people.
WW: What is the origin of the shirt’s design? Where did “HA, HA, HA” originally come from?
TL: It’s very simple and old school. I sit in front of a computer and use that font because it references the 1970s—I’m a big John Hughes, Cameron Crow fan, I was born in 1970, and I saw The Love Boat when it was a new episode on TV, etc. Long story short, the font resonates with my work right now and my work is prompted by a word.
I just typed the words on a computer, not overthinking it, which is in line with a lot of my work—very spontaneous, when decisions happen on the spot and in the moment. So, maybe in one minute, I typed that out. I made a screen without any intention of putting that in a painting. But I made that screen, and, in my studio, it was tacked on the wall.
When Michelle came over and we did some brainstorming sessions, it was on my wall because I thought, “I like that. I don’t know why I made that, but it has some purpose.” She saw it and said, “That one.” I took it down, screen printed one right then, and she said, “That’s gold. Love it.” That’s the beauty of the collaboration; it was really in the moment, in my studio, with all the great vibes working together. It was an awesome moment.
WW: This was your first fashion collaboration. Tell me about how it felt to see your stuff on the runway.
TL: I’m quiet because there are no words. I’m a painter. That’s one process. But, to see my designs and artwork in a collaborative state, and then be in motion—kinetic and moving and part of a greater picture—it threw my work into a context that was completely new to me. I felt like a little kid at my birthday party! It was exciting to see how it fit into her creative vision and her collection, because I didn’t know how these pieces would really fit together.
But being here…I’m so breathless, ecstatic, and impressed with her work. I think she’s my favorite artist right now. I love what she did with the pieces, and just the vibe was very exciting and dynamic.
WW: Did you have a favorite piece in the collection?
TL: I was excited to see the mesh over the sweatshirts. That was interesting to me, as a painter, because it was this kind of visual dynamic and interplay between transparent and color.
So, I think the “HA, HA, HA” T-shirt with the multi-color neon under the mesh was probably my favorite. And then, beyond my own work, I love the metallic crazy. It was unexpected and exciting. In a world that’s so turbulent, she found a way to bring this flavor, vibe, and climate to the show. She curated that climate and I feel proud to be a part of it and add to it.
WW: Michelle told us that the Milly wearer is a woman who is confident and empowered. Who is your collector?
TL: I think my collectors find themselves in the work, because I make portraits primarily. I collaborate with collectors. So, the word is a prompt, and usually they bring themselves into the work. My works are always collaborative. They’re always made with somebody in mind or they’re infused into the portrait. They’re painted biographies.
The collector is probably somebody that is edgy, current, and self-invested. They look into themselves a lot, too. I think it makes them think a lot about who they are. When you collect work and it’s on the wall in your house, you want to look at it and live with it. To live with work means it’s like a family member. It has to have a relationship to you. All of my collectors have a personal reason why they have that piece, and it’s all different stories. There’s some actual connection to the model and the collector—they’re not random purchases.
In fact, I don’t know that I’ve had many random purchases. It’s always, “That reminded me of me in boarding school,” or, “I want to see that ‘HA, HA, HA’ every day.” It’s something that they respond to internally. They find something in their life history clicks or causes an emotional response. They’re introspective.