The Island Brides
The Bali-based Zimbabwean designer behind the eponymous Miss Milne brand branches out into boho-feel bridal wear.
When she was asked to make the gown for her best friend Emma’s wedding in Cape Town – with no brief other than “you know me” – Helen Milne got her head down and started sketching.
“She didn’t even try the dress until the week before the wedding when I flew in with it,” recalls the 37-year old. Luckily, the bride-to-be fell head over heels for the end result – an elegant, backless number with intricate beading on the hem. For the designer, the experience of cutting, embroidering and stitching upon such precious silks brought to light a new love – for luxe bridal couture.
But Milne’s fabric fixation can be traced back earlier, to a childhood spent in a vibrant but still developing Africa. “There weren’t many shops in Zimbabwe, so when we were kids my Greek grandmother made all of our clothes. Because my mum was working, I was with my grandmother a lot of the time. She’d be trimming and sewing lengths of cloth and sometimes she’d give me bits to cut,” says Milne who has since collaborated with big-name British brands like Topshop and Harvey Nichols.
London-bound initially to teach English to immigrants, the young psychology graduate found herself magnetically drawn to the capital’s hot and heady fashion scene. Following her gut, she quit the classroom and took a job as a shop girl at high-street fashion brand, Joy. The gamble paid off and she went on to become area manager for one of the UK’s most influential labels, Pepe Jeans. Her dream to design came about almost by chance.
“I developed Pepe’s flagship Portobello store with a studio at the back. We started recycling denim offcuts and I thought it’d be nice to have some people in their customising one-off T-shirts and denim pieces. They needed another designer so I asked if I could fill the role. At that stage, I had no idea how to even thread a machine!”
With a bit of help from London College of Fashion’s intensive evening class program, Helen started to make headway. In a matter of months, she was a dressmaking dab hand, putting together ensembles for It-girls and icons alike, including Sienna Miller and Jade Jagger.