I’m on my way to meet with up and coming fashion designer Jeff Millbern and as I’m sitting on the “L” train waiting for the doors to close, a young girl steps on, who you can tell has no fashion sense whatsoever, but looks proud and happy wearing her bejeweled tank top tucked into her extremely high, high waisted jeans (or maybe she just made them that way), long boho chic necklaces and shades and her jeans tucked into her Ugg boots. Horror!!! Anyway, as I ride the train to meet up with Jeff I can’t help but laugh to myself about what the lady is wearing, although I know it is wrong. You had to be there.
I finally make it to the Starbucks that Jeff and I have decided to meet at and see exactly what I had thought of Jeff to be: a dapper and handsome young man dressed casual cool and ready for any questions (at least I hope) that I may throw to him.
TA: I did see your recent collection … that whole “forties” look. Where did you get your inspiration?
JM: I had a picture of my grandmother from back in Germany in the 1940s, and she’s wearing this gorgeous suit that her father actually made for her. So that kind off sparked the look, my inspiration for my fall collection.
TA: Are you the type of fashion designer that designs to follow the trends or do you move to the beat of your own drum?
JM: I do follow what other designers do, of course. I have a pretty good eye for trends and what is fashionable and what is current. But I tend to draw for my inspiration from personal feelings of an attitude that I am trying to show everyone through my clothing.
TA: What was your stepping stone towards getting into the fashion industry? Usually people give the standard cliché answer of “I’ve been reading fashion magazines ever since I was in the womb or I started sewing when I was two.”
JM: I did read fashion magazines when I was younger and went shopping with my mom and sister all the time, but I think it’s a little deeper that that for me. My grandmother was a seamstress and her father was a tailor and she grew up in Czechoslovakia. My great-grandfather was a tailor to rich families before the war. So I definitely feel like it is a “bloodline” type of thing.
TA: It’s sort of like a lineage of sewers in your family.
JM: Yeah, definitely, so I take that especially to heart.
TA: Speaking on your background in fashion. You graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, right?
TA: What made you come to Chicago to learn about fashion and get your fashion design degree? Because you know Chicago is not viewed as a fashion city. Are you from Chicago?
JM: Well, I’m originally from California, from San Diego. It’s kind of a long, bizarre and complicated story on how I ended up here. But basically my whole attitude towards things is I kinda go wherever the wind blows me. So I was studying Spanish and Apparel Merchandising at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, and that kind of didn’t work out to well for me, the whole small town, big college thing. It’s a great little town, it just doesn’t have what I was looking for, so I high-tailed to the nearest big city and ended up in Chicago. I knew I wanted to do fashion design, but my whole passion for it sort of grew over time as I was studying it. So coming into the design program at Columbia College I didn’t know anything and honestly I had sewed like maybe a few shorts or like a shirt of something.
TA: When did you start Columbia College?
JM: I started in 2001.
TA: So what do you think in terms of the fashion industry here in Chicago? Would you want to stay? I know we had previously talked about you wanting to go to New York, but now you are going to stay until Spring 2006. Do you think the longer you stay here, that you will become complacent and comfortable and not leave?
JM: Honestly, I LOVE Chicago! It’s such a great city, but I don’t think I would stay here. The only reason I’m staying here now is just to save a little bit of money to move.
JM: Yeah, and kind of focus on more of where I want to go and what company I want to pursue.
TA: Ok, your last collection I saw was on NBC5/Chicago this summer. I’m assuming that was your collection for Fall 2005.
JM: That was Fall 2005.
TA: And what have you been conjuring up in your head for your next collection? What should we expect for Spring 2006?
JM: Always with staying true to my collection and part of my philosophy is to use a lot of designs and silhouettes with a vintage flair. But for Spring 2006, I was thinking much more wild colors. I love a mixture of textures and patterns. You know, like polka dots and plaids together. It doesn’t really work, but it can if you do it right.
TA: Of course, and who better to show us how that works than a fashion designer, such as yourself.
TA: What if the senior buyer of Bergdorff Goodman or the editor at large of Vogue was to read this article. Why should they buy pieces of your collection or write on your collection for their magazine? What does your collection express or have that others may not?
JM: That’s such a hard question. You know it really is, and I’m mad at you for asking that, but I’ll try my best to explain. One thing that I believe is really important in all my clothing is to have a real personal touch to it. I love detail and I pay such attention to detail. For example, inside all my jackets or my skirts I have some sort of detail that only the woman wearing the piece would know about. And I feel it’s sort of like a relationship with the article of clothing. You know, it kind of like makes it real personal.
TA: Is there a particular designer or designers that you are just in love with that you just love every time they bring a collection out?
JM: It’s so hard to say cause there are so many great designers. They keep coming out with new looks and reinventing their ideas and everything. So it’s so hard to be devoted to one.
TA: You’re not a groupie.
JM: Eh, not really. I mean I take inspiration from all designers and sort of bring it into my own designs.
TA: Speaking of your own designs. When did you seriously realize that being a fashion designer was what you want to be, without regards to how much money you would make or fame you would gain? When did you know that this is something you wanted to do, you love to do? When did this feeling pop into your head?
JM: Probably half way through my career. I mean, when you go full-time fashion design you work so hard. You don’t have any sort of life or anything and you know I realized that I’m not in it for the glamour and the fame. And what really fascinated me about the whole career of being a fashion designer is the whole “behind the scenes” kind of thing. Like when you look at the designers and they come out on the runway after their show and their always wearing just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and I totally dress the same way. Like I do not dress the way that [some designers …]
TA: Like Tom Ford?
JM: Yeah, you know what I mean.
TA: No velvet tuxedo jacket and glass of whiskey down the runway?
JM: No, not at all.
We end the interview with the last swigs of our drinks and a brief hug. As I walk towards the “L” train to go back home and wouldn’t you know I come across the high-high waisted jeans lady again. Instead of laughing ignorantly at this young girl’s fashion choice, I just hope that she comes across this article and reads and sees the beautiful clothing that Mr. Millbern cre
ates and instead of being a victim of fashion, finally becomes a true lover of fashion and learns to create her own instead of following others.
Jeff Millbern can be contacted regarding his collection at 773.851.4837.