Yugoslavian designer working in Italy
Born: Maria Carmen Nutrizio Schön in Trau, Dalmatia, Yugoslavia, 1919; raised in Trieste and Milan, Italy. Career: Opened atelier, Milan, 1958; first showed own custom designs, 1965; first boutique
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Mila Schön's interest in high fashion began when she became a personal client of Balenciaga. Her family were wealthy Yugoslav aristocrats who had fled to Italy to escape the communist regime. Living the life of a wealthy Italian demanded an elegant wardrobe and Schön's natural grace and good taste made her an excellent couture client. She must have studied the business thoroughly during her fittings because, when the family fortunes were lost, she turned to the fashion industry in order to make a living.
Business began in 1959 when Schön was 35, with a small atelier in Milan, where Parisian models were basically adapted and copied, combining Balenciaga's austerity of cut with Dior's versatility, plus a hint of Schiaparelli's wit. By the mid-1960s Schön was showing more original work at trade fairs in Florence and Rome, establishing a reputation as a perfectionist who worked within the constraints of a classic design structure. Her tailoring was particularly distinctive, executed with faultless attention to detail and cut in her favourite double-faced wools. The resultant clothes were highly sophisticated and sold at the top end of ready-to-wear or in the Mila Schön boutiques in Rome, Florence, and Milan. Small wonder clients included wealthy socialites like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her sister Lee Radziwill Ross, and Babe Paley.
Schön described her company slogan as "Not how much, but how." This was reflective of her attitude towards high quality and taste. The company decided to translate the DOC (controlled origin denomination), a quality mark used in the wine business, for use on their clothes, denoting the company's attitude towards perfection. Schön was also very selective when it came to choosing clients in order to retain quality. She traded on what she described as a "medium circulation basis," so that when any side of her business was seen to make a marked profit, therefore operating beyond its limits, she started a new company to accommodate it.
There have been several diffusion lines and licensees since the company's inception. In line with the Schön business philosophy, these products have been marketed and sold through separately formed companies. Mila Schön Due is a less expensive ready-to-wear line; Mila Schön Uomo is the men's range. There is also a swimwear range, Aqua Schön, and a sunglasses range, Schön Ottica. Ties,
By the mid-1990s Mila Schön, the designer, had retired, and her firm had been acquired by the Japanese trading company, Itocha, and the Coronet distribution firm. In 1994 the new owners hired Andrea Pinto, son of Pinto clan owning Krizia, to return the house to a higher profile, since it had lost much of its cache and was no longer profitable. Anna Domenici, also of Krizia, was brought over to help as a design consultant, and Pinto approached Schön herself to come back in 1996. The move was inspired, and so were the resulting collections. When the firm was acquired by Mariella Burani Fashion Group SpA in 1999, the Schön name was once again at the forefront of fashion, with new boutiques opening worldwide, including two in Russia, another in Prague, and plans for a third Russian store.
In 2001 Mila Schön was alive and well. In its coverage of the Milan fashion shows, Women's Wear Daily (3 October 2001) enthused over the firm's ability to add a hint of feminity to its traditionally tough-as-nails chic, "The hard edges of sculptured shapes were softened with cutout lace motifs and discreet ruffling. From day into evening, the delicate detailing appeared on almost everything, and, when it wasn't on the clothes, it found its way onto the accessories, from belts to boots."
Some 45 years after its founding, Mila Schön remains one of the most respected and established names in Italian fashion, representing design standards that are classic, flattering, and sometimes highly imaginative. Though Schön herself is no longer a fixture, her design sensibility ranked her among the finest Italian design houses in clientéle and prestige.
updated by Nelly Rhodes