MILLY AT THE BARRE: As a former dancer and the mother of one enrolled in the School of American Ballet, Milly designer Michelle Smith’s alliance with New York City Ballet’s Unity Phelan is not about keeping up appearances.
Phelan, who became the NYCB’s youngest soloist last year, will wear a customized Milly dress at the NYCB’s Spring Gala on May 4. Smith met Phelan through the dancer’s boyfriend, Cameron Dieck, at a fund-raiser for the School of American Ballet. “He was seated next to me. He is a really nice guy and such a good dancer. He said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Milly. You have to meet my girlfriend Unity. She’s beautiful and she would look amazing in your clothes,’” Smith said. “He introduced us right there at the event and we all just became friends.”
Smith invited Phelan, who earned acclaim in Christopher Wheeldon’s “American Rhapsody” last year, to visit her showroom to check out her dresses and fabrics. “We’re very comfortable together so it was rather informal. Cameron came up with her,” Smith said. As of Thursday, the dancer was deciding between a black sheer organza silk coupe motif with a plunging halter neckline with a large billowy skirt and the other dress is “very va-va-voom dress in an exquisite fabric. It’s the signature look from my runway show — the fractured slipdress with a lot of cutouts with a crisscross back,” Smith said. “She’s deciding while we speak.”
The designer knows her way around Lincoln Center since her daughter Sophia has performed in the NYCB’s performance of “The Nutcracker” for the past two years. Smith herself danced as a child for seven or eight years. “That experience definitely informed my work as a designer even before I met Unity. It’s all about the subtle details, the attention to, ‘What if you turned your head a quarter of an inch more this way and how much more elegant is that line?’” she said. “I carry that discipline into the cut of my clothing. I will alter something down to an eighth of an inch for the right cut, the right angle and the correct reveal of what I want to show. It’s also just a great discipline that you carry through your life — hard work, love of music and love of how you move your body is a very passionate art form.”
Smith now has her sights focused on expanding her retail reach and building e-commerce. “Very seriously” looking into opening a store in Los Angeles, Smith is also scouting for a second Manhattan location downtown. There are two freestanding Milly stores — one uptown and another in East Hampton. Five more are open in the Middle East through partners and a few concept shops are up and running in Japan.