RUNWAY MEETS COCKTAIL PARTY: Milly designer Michelle Smith brought a bit of the New York runway experience to Chicago for her recent personal appearance at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue. “We had a beautiful turnout,” said Smith, who showed highlights from her spring collection at a runway presentation. More than 100 guests attended the fashion show and cocktail party, and then shopped the spring collection. The designer’s off-shoulder tops and dresses performed the best, according to Neiman Marcus. “It’s great to meet the customers and to engage with them. I love working with them in the dressing rooms,” Smith said, who does about eight retail visits a year, split between spring and summer and fall. “And to be able to connect with the store employees so they can put the face behind the brand.” While the retail events are designed to showcase the current season, Smith enjoys seeing relics from her past seasons pop up on her customers. “I hear some of the greatest stories,” said the designer whose first collection was in 2001. “One of the guests was wearing a jacket from spring 2007 and she accessorized and styled it in a way that was relevant today. It’s cool to create those timeless pieces. And I recognize them right away — they’re all my babies.”

The designer is working on resort, which she says is “always tricky. You’re shipping it when all the fall and winter is being marked down. It also has to be appropriate for that season. It’s always a fun design challenge,” Smith said. “There’s not the pressure of a runway show. It’s fun, I feel a lot of freedom.”