Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vintage Italian Fashion - Mila Schön

Unless otherwise noted, all clothing is by Mila Schön, 1969.

The life of designer Mila Schön is the stuff of fashion fairy tales. Born Maria Carmen Nutrizio about 1919 in Yugoslavia, her family lost their fortunes after the first World War when the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were redistributed. The family eventually ended up in Italy, where Mila (her childhood nickname) met her husband, Aurelio Schön, a wealthy precious metals dealer.


With her new station in life, Mila traveled to Paris, where she bought her couture wardrobe at the houses of Dior and Balenciaga. She became fascinated with the cut and construction techniques of the couturiers.

In the 1950s, her husband's jewelry business failed, and so did the marriage. Mila was a single mother with little money. She kept up her wardrobe by hiring Milanese seamstresses to make copies of Parisian couture. Her friends started asking her to make their clothes, and Mila opened her own atelier in 1958 in Milan. Without a design background, she continued to copy others until she felt she had the skills and confidence to produce her own designs.

By 1965, Schön had advance so far in her design skills, she was invited to show her line at the Pitti Palace with the best of Italian couturiers. She showed 25 outfits, all in various shades of purple, from palest lilac to deepest eggplant. She then opened her own couture house in Milan in 1966.

Neiman Marcus was the first to carry Mila Schön in the U.S., followed closely by Bonwit Teller and Henri Bendel. Her clothes were worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill, Babe Paley, Imelda Marcos, and Farah Diba, wife of the Shah of Iran.

Schön was an expert tailor with flawless attention to detail. She preferred to tailor her suits and coats with double faced wools, or with duplicate inner and outer layers, sewn together at the edges, in order to eliminate facings and linings. She was also known for her unique juxtaposition of colors, often using insets of contrasting fabrics, as you can see in several of the garments shown here.

During the 1970s, Schön added ready-to-wear, menswear, shoes, handbags, swimwear, jewelry, and perfume, among others.

Veruschka wearing Mila Schön, 1969

Mila went into semi-retirement in the 1980s, and her many lines lost a sense of cohesion. She sold her company to the Japanese firm Itochu in 1993. In 1994, they brought in designers from Krizia and then persuaded Schön to return in 1996. In 1999, the company was acquired by Mariella Burani Fashion Group SpA and the Mila Schön brand thrives to this day. In 2002, the Burani Group introduced the Mila Schon Concept line of clothing which was meant to appeal to a younger customer. It was unsuccessful and only lasted a few seasons.

Mila died on September 4, 1998 just days before the company was set to celebrate it's 50th anniversary.

Shown here is the brilliant green and navy blue uniform Schön designed for Alitalia Airlines in 1969. She designed the complete wardrobe for Alitalia's "air hostesses", including a two piece wool suit in winter and summer weights, a coat, a cape, a cabin frock, and a contrasting navy hat. She also designed the shoes and boots that were made by Bruno Magli.

This 1969 colorblocked pantsuit by Mila Schön is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Please note: Biographical information about Mila Schön is copyright of Couture Allure and may not be copied without permission.