Milli still turning heads — this time, to the past


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For more than 50 years, Hamilton’s first lady of fashion has watched women walk out the doors of her chic boutique carrying lavish gowns, snappy handbags, and designer shoes.

Now, Milli Gould is hoping some of those items will make their way back home.

The iconic high-end retailer that bears her name has launched a new archive project in the hopes of showcasing some of the gowns, cocktail dresses and headpieces sold since it opened in 1964. And Gould is putting out a call to her customers to bring their Milli clothing back to the store to be displayed as part of the exhibit.

The archive is meant to showcase the range of styles and trends that have flourished over the years, as well as commemorating the women who wore them. The exhibit will feature the gown, the name of the wearer, and a photo of her in the dress.

Gould — who, at 83, maintains her famously regal bearing — says she never thought of herself as having such an impact on women’s lives. The high school dropout, who began working in retail on weekends at the tender age of 12, says it’s all just part of the job.

“It was my daily work that I did every day,” she said. “Did I ever expect this to happen? No. But it’s the way I always hoped it would be.”

Ben Gould, Milli’s son and chief financial officer, said the exhibit was born out of the realization of how closely their business has been woven into their customers’ lives.

“For women especially, they can tell you what they were wearing at every important event — a first date, a prom night,” he said. “So we started to think about history, and how we should capture that.”

He says many Milli customers have kept their special-occasion clothing tucked away in closets as sentimental keepsakes.

“They’ll never wear it, but it’s a reminder of their past. We want to honour the customers and what that meant for them. The difference with our archive is it’s really about the women who wore it — it’s not about the designer.”

The exhibit also features archival items documenting Milli’s long history, including newspaper ads and articles. (Most of the early newspaper ads are in the so-called “women’s pages,” save for one placed in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Section that urges men to shop at Milli for special gifts for their wives).

The retailer has hired an archivist to catalogue, digitally, its photos, marketing materials and packaging.

The exhibit includes gifts that were sent home with loyal customers, such as matchbooks and an ornate, ceramic ashtray emblazoned with “From My Couturier” that dates back to the late ’60s.

Though fashion has changed over the 52 years that Milli has been in business, one thing has remained constant — the woman behind the name. While shoppers came to the store for high-end clothing, Gould’s brand of focused personal service was the store’s real draw.

Ben Gould says his mother always wore her trademark black, and still does, to allow her customers to shine.

“She doesn’t want the attention to be on her. She insists that everybody wear very neutral or black so that when customers come in, it’s never about what the salesperson is wearing,” he said. “It’s about the customer.”Read more at: |

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