Milan Vukmirovic

Successfully moving between design, publishing, photography and retail, Milan Vukmirovic’s mind never stops creating. He occupies a place of his own, with a visual language that is as powerful as it is distinct. Enter ‘Milan Vukmirovic’ into the search engine and his story begins on Rue Saint Honour where he co-founded Colette in 1995 before heading over to Gucci, Jil Sander and Trussardi. Recently appointed Creative Director of Menswear at Ports 1961, Vukmirovic is bringing his classic cuts and effortless style to the Italian brand.

Many, including myself, recall the opening of Colette as the start of your career. How did you become interested in fashion?

The success of Colette was so big, that people began to know me as the director and buyer of the store, but my first job and interest was in fashion design. When I was 18 I attended a fashion school in Paris to study design and pattern making, where after a few years, I did design internships in fashion houses. The real start however, was when I was 17, wondering what I wanted to do. I knew it was in fashion but I didn’t know exactly what, so I went to a bookstore where I saw i-D and The Face and started to read those magazines all the time. That’s when I knew I had to work in this business, and when I decided to go to fashion school in Paris. People will say ‘You’ve done so many things!’ but I started fashion because I love fashion magazines.

Which design houses did you intern for?

While I was at school, I had a lot of free time so I did an internship with a famous French magazine that doesn’t exist anymore. When I finished studying, the magazine helped me get an internship at Christian Lacroix, then Lanvin and after I met a friend of mine and for two/three years we ran a small label. It was quite successful because in London we were selling to Joseph and Harrods, so I was very happy at the time. We were very young and that’s how Colette discovered me because she knew of the clothes that I was designing. So really my first love [sic] into fashion was about design, magazines and image. I really thought that this is the unique business of fashion where you can do a lot of things. There are a lot of ways of working in the business because it’s not just designers, there are so many creative people and you meet a lot of creative people from hairdressers, to make-up artists to photographers. It’s complete in a creative way, even though it’s a business, it’s still a very creative field.

You co-founded Colette in 1995 which is now considered one of the greatest concept stores in the world. What was your initial vision for Colette? Did you ever see it becoming as big as it is today?

We did this concept because it was the three of us: Colette, Sarah Andelman and myself. Sarah was very young at the time and we were all very good friends. The story is at the dinner Colette wanted to start a new business. She was tired of the business she was in before and I said to her why don’t we do a store where we can put all the things that we like. We discussed ideas and a few days after she asked whether I could put the concept for her on paper, in order for her to visualise it. I remember doing this concept and writing in black and white that Colette should be a pitstop for everybody who comes to Paris or who lives in Paris but doesn’t have time to go to a lot of stores. They can just go to one and see everything: fashion, objects or toys. At the same time, it should be a pitstop, where people should be able to meet their friends for lunch or to see an exhibition. They don’t have to buy but they will always have to see what’s new to the store. I think we were really one of the first stores to mix different kinds of product and I think we are a little bit guilty of what happened after which was ‘The It Bag’ and ‘The New Shoe’. In a way it was a bit like what Steve Jobs was doing with Apple, we show people what they don’t think they need but they need it because it’s new and because it’s great. So really the concept was to travel all over the world and bring things that were not in Paris. You also have to remember that it was ’95 before the opening. Rue Saint Honore was only Hotel Costes and duty free, there was no real fashion store.

When we opened it was a good moment in fashion because Prada and Gucci were just starting to do a lot of accessories. If you look at the history of fashion, the 90s was very creator [sic] fashion and in fact, fashion began to be marketing and accessory orientated. Before, it was more about selling clothes. Even at the end of the 90s when I arrived at Jil Sander, Jil Sander was one of the few companies that sold a lot of ready-to-wear; but really the end of the 90s was the revolution of the Gucci, Prada and Fendi bag. It was just the beginning where luxury groups started to buy a lot of the labels and became big conglomerates. Colette happened at a very good time when things were changing, I think the way people were consuming was changing too. 

You worked quite closely with Tom Ford during your tenure Gucci, was there an important lesson that you learnt from him? How has that experience shaped you?

When I step back now to look at the years that I worked with him, I realise that I learnt a lot. Tom is very good with image and at the same time he’s very good at marketing and how to develop accessories lines. Now it seems that everybody has ‘It’ bags and shoes but at the time he came to Gucci and Saint Laurent to develop the ideas of It bags and It shoes and how to work with different brands. When I worked with him, Gucci was becoming Gucci Group so it gave me the opportunity to work with Sergio Rossi on shoes and to work on the Saint Laurent accessories because Stefano Pilati was doing the clothes. I learnt two things that are very important with him: firstly you have to be surrounded with good people and Tom Ford has an incredible talent at finding people. The first time I came to London to work with Tom, my desk was next to Christopher Bailey who’s at Burberry, Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein, Claire Keller who’s at Chloe and I’m at Ports 1961, after going to Trussardi. We all were future creative directors of design houses and it’s crazy because he has a talent for finding good people and the other thing is, Tom has a vision. He knows what he wants and you have to respect him for that. Also when he left, he said for two/three years that he wanted to make a movie and he finally did one and I like that. I think it’s that belief in what you dream of and do it. Never regret not to do something or never try it at least and thing for me is a big influence.

And now he’s about to make his second film…

That’s really cool. In fact, when I was at Jil Sander and I met Richard Avedon and I said to him that I like photography. I buy, collect but will never touch photography. He really pushed me and said ‘why not? If you don’t you may really regret it, you should really try’ and he is right. Now when I speak to students who said ‘I want to be like you’, I say first you have to work a lot, don’t be afraid to try. Today it’s easier because the digital world gives you a lot of possibilities and photography is easier with digital cameras now and social media makes your work known.

Now you’re at Ports 1961, were you given a brief when you joined the company?

At Ports they said. ‘We want you! We want your image, we want the way you dress, you are the client.’ I thought, ‘Wow! How easy is this!?!” They almost gave me a carte blanche and said don’t look at what we did before, just do what you like and what you want to wear so that’s why I did this first collection with my favourite wardrobe elements. I don’t want to do very conceptual clothes that I will never wear because I think today with everything we see, we need sincerity. I liked Ports before but Ports needed a soul to be more sincere and obviously if somebody doesn’t like me or like what I wear they probably won’t like Ports because it’s very very personal.

What are your aspirations for the brand?

Now I’m starting Spring/Summer 16 and I’m looking around at what’s going on. For example, there’s a hippy feeling coming back and I don’t want to be dressed up in a vintage look of the 70s because firstly it’s ridiculous, and secondly, I don’t think there is anything interesting there. So I’m looking at how can I maybe work on that, mixing and making it 2015. That’s also a big difference from where I worked before because I’m looking less at the past. Today I’m much more attracted to labels such as Supreme, Acne Studios and Vans. All these labels I think are very cool don’t do fashion shows, or big campaigns. For me, it’s more real and close to what I like. Even Ralph Lauren in a way sometimes is more close to my taste and my age so that’s how I work. It’s very personal, so really I’m doing my wardrobe, what I want to wear next Spring/Summer.

Finally, what’s next for Milan Vukmirovic?

I made one mistake in my past by doing too many things at once. It was my passion but I was also forgetting about private life and enjoying life because in fashion you’re always working ahead so you never really enjoy the moment. Now it’s important that what’s next doesn’t impede on my personal life, so I’m very excited to start the new issue of Fashion for Men. Sometimes it takes me six/seven months to complete an issue, so I’m starting that now as well as designing the next Ports 1961 collection. I’m trying to shoot a little bit more for other magazines and other people. This of course is very exciting and gives me enough time to get inspired and see things and exhibition, read books and relax too. It’s so challenging now, we always have to be creative but you need to find your time to get inspiration too. What’s next is always a big question mark because you work and then tomorrow someone calls you and says, ‘I want you to do a concept store in Dubai do you want to do it?’. Of course, I will leave the door open but I don’t want to make the mistake of doing too much where you’re exhausted, it’s not healthy and I’m getting old!

Images courtesy of Ports 1961