Mila Schon, from Trogir to Milan

26/01/2016

Benedetta Barzini in Mila Schon photographed by Ugo Mulas for Vogue Italia March 1970 / Mila Schon biography via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
"So what do you want for your birthday?" a woman asked her four-year-old granddaughter. "Trepize," the little girl replied, "so I can make a dress for my dolly." 

The legend goes that when a little girl arrived in Nutrizio family, her father, a great lover of Gabriele D'Annunzio's La figlia di Lorio, nicknamed his daughter Mila as if setting her on a path of creating beauty among chaos. Carmen Maria Nutrizio, as Mila was officially called, was born in Trogir (or Trau in Italian) - a historic Dalmatian harbour connecting Yugoslavia with Italy with a wide crystal blue strip of sparking Adriatic Sea basking in sunlight. 

She was only two when her parents, once prosperous Austro-Hungarian landlords, started losing the family fortunes and had to leave their home for good. They travelled across the sea, first to to Trieste and then - Genoa where Mila's father run a chemist's shop. Life wasn't a struggle - her mother was at home, father - managing a shop and brother Nino making it in the newspaper business, but the fortune truly smiled at Mila when she met Aurelio Schon, an Austrian wealthy jewellery dealer. The couple married in 1946 and soon had their son Giorgio.

Mila Schon, fashion designer biography, editorials, show reports, quotes, trivia, collections via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
Everything looked as idyllic as one could only imagined. It was a life of wealth, parties, balls, trips and expensive hotels. At home Mila was surrounded by beautiful things, "only the best" as she once recalled, for Aurelio would not accept anything less. Such a lavish lifestyle required a wardrobe to suit, so frequent trips to Paris where Mila was chauffeured for the presentations and fittings at Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel and Desses were a norm. Besides, her husband preferred it if Mila never appeared in the same dress twice giving her every excuse to indulge without limits while also learning about the technical side of couture business from the masters themselves.

Maison Christian Dior via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
Sadly, the family bliss wasn't meant to last forever. By the mid-1950s Mila was founding herself grow more and more independent, becoming a woman of her own personality, not a trophy housewife Aurelio once married. The moment everything started to crack was set in motion by a gift - a silver silk Tizzoni dress given to Mila by her husband as a New Year's Eve present. She put it on, looked at reflection in a mirror, the glamorous rich segnora who was just about to join her husband in a ball room, and suddenly realised that everything was just a beautiful facade - and not the way she imagined herself, not the person she really was - the woman who has her own vision and, most importantly, her own taste that didn't require anyone's guidelines. 

Even more so when the family was facing financial difficulties, Schon finally saw her husband without rose-tinted glasses and felt that behind the strong and attractive surface was nothing but a weak man unable to face the actualities of life. She went home, got Giorgio, dismissed the servants, packed some of her belongings and asked Nino to help her with a good divorce layer. The golden cage was crushing down, but somehow Mila knew that she was strong enough to deal with the new reality on her own. She left her old world behind and bravely began a fresh new chapter of her life.

And that new life was all about beautiful dresses. The only problem was that Mila Schon knew nothing about making them.

***

One day while picking Giorgio from school Mila shared her dream of being a fashion designer with a mother of her sons school friend. Dogle Fare whose family owned the first patternmakers in Milan listened carefully. Then she took Mila to one of the best Milanese boutiques and introduced her to Enrica Colombo, a skilled dressmaker who, from that day, remained at Mila's side for thirty-six years. A few months later the first collection inspired by classic Balenciaga and Dior was ready.

Presented at her mother's house on Via Felice Casati, the blouses and dresses were met with plenty of skepticism coming from both Mila's friends and her mother, Bianca Zacevic, an experienced dressmaker. After an initial critique, Binca took out the scissors and began altering the clothes until she was pleased with the fit and length of the sleeves. Then she praised her daughter for the efforts.

Mila Schon, fashion designer biography, editorials, show reports, quotes, trivia, collections via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
Not only that, she insisted that Mila contacted Loris Abate, a jewellery designer whom she met through her former husband. They set a meeting at the end of which Abate offered the mother and daughter his financial support and suggested the best location for the atelier - right in a centre of Milan. Once a dream, Mila's idea of having a couture house of her own was started to take shape. 

Her name was spreading among the friends and Schon found herself feeling confident enough to experiment with her design ideas whilst simultaneously learning everything she could about the process, from producing quality sketches to pattern making. Although the steps she was making were small, but what matters was the direction Mila was heading. Whether she was designing a day dress or an evening gown, Schon favoured simplicity and clean lines as a sign of true beauty. She always had a very clear and precise vision of what she wanted and an ability to explain and discuss it with her stuff until perfection was achieved.

Sala Bianca Palazzo Pitti fashion show in 1964 via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
Her clients at the time included friends from the upper middle class of Milan and Rome. They loved her day dresses with a perfect fit and Parisian flair without frills, and, being a part of the same social circle, she always understood what they were after. Schon personally met every single woman who came to her atelier not only to order a couture dress, but seek Mila's opinion and use her expect eye when it came to impeccable style.

By 1964 demand for Mila Schon designs went national. In 1964 she began working with collaborators including China Bert who designed coats and jackets, Pellicceria Chiovato, the furrier, and Louis Abate who designed jewellery and buttons. The resulting collection caught attention of Giovanni Battista Giorgini, the noble man and father of Italian couture movement. By 1964 he already organised a few shows in the Palazzo Pitti's Sala Bianca featuring Emilio Schuberth, Roberto Capucci, Simonetta and Irene Galitzine among a few. Now he wanted Mila to join them.

Veruschka wearing Mila Schon in Vogue US March 1967 / Mila Schon early collections & sketches, Mila Schon in 1967 via www.fashionedbylove.co.uk
It was an exciting but also rather terrifying proposition for the designer who was at the time mourning for her mother (Bianca died in September 1964) and had about a month to prepare an entirely new collection. Schon dived into work wholeheartedly. In January 1965 she presented what was described as "a very small collection, but so beautiful everyone were crying in the end from the emotions. It was her work at the highest level... and confirmation that she was on the right path" and something that Mila herself referred to as "a discovery".

By summer she received another invitation to show at Pitti. The palazzo was crowded. It was such an emotional moment everyone could almost touch it. As the lights went out, the models appeared on a runway, several garments at a time, from streamlined daywear to enchanting beaded evening dresses. It was a collection that became a part of "The Italian Look" and proved the uniqueness and talent of Mila Schon. Her vision of making elegance modern yet refined brought "700 people to their feet shouting... a true ovation..." As soon as the show was over Mila was informed that she just received the Neiman Marcus's "Oscar of Fashion" award. 

It was the moment that defined the international success of both the brand and the fashion designer. Now Mila Schon had an ocean to cross.

To be continued...

Photo source: Benedetta Barzini in Mila Schon photographed by Ugo Mulas for Vogue Italia March 1970, Mila Schon early sketches and collections, Sala Bianca Palazzo Pitti fashion show in 1964, Veruschka wearing Mila Schon in Vogue US March 1967 & Mila Schon before her trip to the US in 1966, Mila Schon backstage after the show via Mila Schon & Mila Schon, all scans & collages are my own

5 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story! I can't wait to read about what happened when Mila crossed the ocean - and am resisting the temptation to google it right now, because I know you'll be sharing it tomorrow ;)
    xox,
    Cee

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is fascinating! What an incredible story! Looking forward to finding out more :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. What an interesting start to her career! People's stories always interest me. Can't wait for the next part Natalia.
    http://www.averysweetblog.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. So interesting to learn about Mila Schon. Love the black and white photos; so glam and fab!

    Luxessed

    ReplyDelete
  5. Now that is an amazingly detailed insight into Mila's brand. Love that it shall be continued :) What a well deserved "Oscar for Fashion" from Neiman Markus! :)

    http://www.pret-a-reporter.co.uk/blog/

    ReplyDelete