Of all the things that ‘reside’ in my wardrobe and closet, I think I have the closest affinity with bags (sorry clothes, scarves, shoes, belts, hats, underwear, jewellery) and when I get on the wrong side of my mum, she actually goes as far, as saying that I have a’ bag sickness’.
To be fair, I do have a few bags but ever since I was a young lady, I was always choosy about the ones I actually bought-it wasn’t only the price that was a consideration, but the timeless stylishness factor that was always important for me. I never buy the latest IT bag as I want the bag that appeals to me, fits into my lifestyle, says something about my style sense and has the ‘staying power’. Hopefully one day my daughter will choose to use them too and love them as part of her ‘fashion’ heritage.
My first serious, beautiful bag was a gift from my late father when I was 16 and it was bought at Russell & Bromley (not Chanel or Hermes that many Russian parents choose to buy for their young offspring-seriously, if you start with Chanel, what’s there to strive for?). It looked like a ‘take’ on the Christian Dior‘s and Tod‘s D bags, named after princess Diana-quilted, a la Chanel, black, with gold keyring hanging on the side of one of the handles and I felt so chic and grown-up, having it on my arm-it still lives in the cupboard and when I take it out, I smile and think of my Father and how important and formative he was and still is in my life.
As years have gone by, my collection slowly expanded, mostly comprising large bags (I do carry a lot of staff with me) but of course I have smaller ones and clutches too, for nights out. Lately though, looking at the prices that the likes of Louis Vuitton or Balenciaga or Gucci charge for their wares, I feel almost stoic in my refusal to succumb to their charms, unless their are in sales-what used to cost you £200 or £300 pounds 15 years ago, costs close to a £1,000 now and it’s not the cost of materials or inflation, it’s the profit margins of the brands that has grown exponentially due to demand from Russia, China or the Arab countries but mercifully, there are exceptions to the rule and you won’t have to compromise on the quality or stylishness factor either.
Just after my summer holiday this year, having returned to London and feeling the urge to get immersed into the fashion feel for the coming season, I made an appointment at Rousiland showroom, to look at their new collections and pieces in stock. When I came in, I noticed the bags that they haven’t stocked before and my eyes started racing. The ones that drew my particular attention were a beautiful red one, the beige/pink shoulder bag, that had a Chanel like chain and an unusual buckle, a cute three-coloured clutch and a very lush black bag that reminded me a little of the one in Celine’s collection-they all stood out in terms of quality and style and while I couldn’t buy all of them, I did succumb to the charms of the one called The Monte Carlo (the beige/pink with a two-way chain).
The bags came from a brand called Milli Millu, which was started in 2010 by a beautiful Spanish woman, based in London, who looks like a model but has a very astute business brain as well, called Mireia Llusia Lindh. The brand’s name is a combination of letters from Mireia Llusia’s name-she said to me that she wanted to have a brand that would sound like a fashion brand, yet feel a little personal to her too.
Mireia Llusia is a very unusual young woman-she was raised in Barcelona, where she studied at University and worked as a management consultant, then moved to London to work in banking and if the work didn’t keep her busy enough, she also managed to do an MBA in Harvard-whoever thinks that a woman can’t be beautiful and accomplished is sooo off the mark!
The interesting thing is that Mireia Llusia not only liked fashion ( I told you she looks like a model, so no surprise there) but she was always discussing bags with friends and colleagues, as while you might choose to work in what’s considered a male dominated sector, you want to retain your femininity and having the right bag to serve both your professional and personal needs. However, one often struggles to find a stylish and practical bag that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and could also take you to the office and then our for dinner or party or client event in the evening. Mireia Llusia’s passion for fashion and design wasn’t getting a creative outlet at work, even though she tried to specialise in retail banking, and her thoughts seemed to trail back to an internship that she did at LVMH between her first and second years of doing an MBA. The fact that no-one in her family was entrepreneurial weighted heavily on her mind and her family gently questioned her reasoning about going to fashion and leaving the relative safety of banking and a steady income behind, while stepping into the unknown. But, as often in life, fate intervened and when Mireia Llusia got pregnant with her daughter, she thought to herself that it was ‘now or never’ and took the plunge, launching Milli Millu with eight bag styles in 2010.
Every season she adds more styles, keeping the best-selling ones (be it style or colour), changing the leather texture and colours and adding more though-out, practical and interesting details. Milli Millu was launched online ( so ‘I can reach the customers around the world more effectively’ says Mireia Llusia), as it made more sense and was more cost effective than opening a free standing shop, especially as she sells in London, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries particularly well and launching in Holland soon.
When she approached the big stores, likes Harrods or Selfridges,they didn’t get her idea (their bag floor layout tends to be quite segmented i.e. luxury, designer bags or functional/travel/laptop type of bag) of a luxurious but niche brand with the price point between £200 and £500 and an added bonus of a well-thought out functionality.
As Mireia Llusia was heavily pregnant when I was interviewing her (her second daughter in due any moment now) and went to Barcelona for a couple of months, I was quite content to use e-mail and phone as a means of communication and have to say that latter stages of pregnancy didn’t slow this feminine powerhouse at all, as she speedily replied to my e-mails and talked numbers and precision points without missing a beat, making me smile in the knowledge that with the right approach a woman can manage to be a spouse, a mother and a career woman, if she chooses to.
Mireia Llusia takes her brand very seriously and is meticulous in her attention to detail, the quality of her bags and the fact that each bag that she designs and sells is unique. She tells me that in Spain you really don’t have middle ground with bag brands, you either have expensive, luxurious ones, like Loewe or Carolina Herrera or cheap ones. Mireia Llusia did a lot of research prior to her launch and found a wonderful factory in Spain (Spaniards are famous for the quality of the leather goods that they produce-I never hesitate to buy a pair of shoes made in Italy or Spain as I know that they will last a long time and will only look more beautiful as they age) that has a strong and long tradition of leather manufacturing. Mireia Llusia is motivated by her attention to style, rather than the term ‘collection’ and always has her customers in mind when she works on the actual designs that go in production. When the new collection launches, she examines the sales and tries to get as much feedback as she can form the sales people and her customers, each time trying to answer a question ‘what’s missing’ in terms of the functionality, so she can integrate new ideas in her future designs.
The inspiration behind each bag can come from anywhere, a beautiful view, a piece of fabric or a shoe that catches her eye and Mireia Llusia also goes to the fair in Bologna, in Italy, twice a year to look. She discusses the pre-collection with the buyers, takes on board their feedback and then launches the final, edited collection.
When I looked at the current look book, I couldn’t help myself but make a wish for quite a few of those bags, because they do catch your eye, they serve you well and I have been stopped both in London and in Europe with a question ‘where did you get that bag’ addressed to my ‘Monte Carlo‘ from Milli Millu-and let’s be honest, it makes you feel good and on the trend, when other women ask you where the item that you are wearing comes from.
In the process of our telephone conversation, Mireia Llusia also told me that leather is a very important factor and not only that, but its ‘finishing’, the process when leather ‘ends’ are getting painted and the layers are needed-if this step gets missed during the manufacturing, she notices it and won’t allow a product like that to hit the sales floor.
Mireia Llusia acknowledges the fact that most women do think about how much they spend on their accessories, after all, a bag can make or break the outfit, so that’s why it is paramount to her to put the effort in and not compromise on the quality. That’s the main reason why she took time to get to know her suppliers-the leather one also supplies Celine for example and the logo supplier has Louis Vuitton on its client books. Saying that, when I ask if she holds ‘sales’ the reply is a slightly hesitant but firm ‘no’-well, she does have certain promotions once in a while on a bag that might not have sold well, but says that she chose her price point fairly and stands by functionality and quality of Milli Millu’s bags, so what she says does make sense-after all, have you ever seen an Hermes bag in sale-if you have, please let me know!
I could also very much relate to Mireia Llusia because she combines the motherood with a career, which if you are in the position yourself, isn’t easy, particularly if you want to be involved in your kids upbringing and not delegate that responsibility to a nanny or a family member. Mireia Llusia says that she is quite lucky because she does have help form a nanny during the day and she also has her work studio at home, which certainly helps her to balance things out and pay attention to both of her babies-real and professional, as her family says that she had two babies when her daughter was born and her daughter and her brand now go hand in hand, with which Mireia agrees.
She tends to get up with her daughter and spend a couple of hours with her, before getting down to work, working till 5pm three days a week and trying to have dinner with her daughter and husband before doing more work after that. Mireia Llusia says that when it comes to her business, she prefers organic growth and will possibly consider getting some investors on board in a few years, when she feels she will be ready to expand. Mireia Llusia discusses her designs with close girlfriends and works on the principle that if she truly loves a particular design and her gut feeling tells her to go with it, then her customers will fall in love with it too and so far that rule seems to be true.
At the moment Milli Millu‘s best-sellers are Barcelona, Zurich and Amsterdam bags. When I asked her why she names her bags after cities, she says that she didn’t want to use people’s names, as many well-known brands already do it, hence naming her bags after the cities made sense, giving the brand a somewhat cosmopolitan feel. Add to that the fact that Mireia Llusia is Spanish, her husband is Swedish and they are currently based in London-it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Another thing that really appeals to me on Milli Millu’s site, is the ‘styling ideas’ section, where brand’s customers and even Mireia Llusia herself pose with their bags-it reminds me a little of the Sartorialist photos and makes you look at a particular bag in the context of style. The women in the pictures are different nationalities, professions and ages, but all of them look beautiful and add their unique touch, thus making this brand feel personal and real. Mireia Llusia said to me, as we were finishing our conversation, that this brand is a ‘labour of love’ and she wanted to build something that she feels passionate about. I had a strong hunch, as I put the receiver down, that this passion is only burning brighter with every presented collection.
P.s In my dreams I already long to add to my Monte Carlo the Londoner ( after all, I live and love this city) or the Tokyo-the simple truth is that those bags are going to allow me to be quite unique, in the sea of Celines, Bottegas, Lanvins, Chloes, Fendis etc. When you look inside of Milli Millu’s bags you see clever sections and pockets that are embossed with ‘papers’ or ‘laptop’, so you can stay stylish and smart and focused and organised, allowing you to be on top of whatever you are doing! I actually had an idea, while writing this piece, thta I would like a sunglasses pocket inside my bags, because carrying them in their case can add bulk, yet if you just throw them in the bag, they might get damaged. So who knows what new collections from Milli Millu would have in store for its customers .)