“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” – Oscar Wilde
After a decades-long search for a simple elegant handbag that was leather-free, designer Jill Fraser started her own line, ‘Jill Milan’, in 2010. In the last seven years, the line ‘Jill Milan’ has become known for it’s perfection of Art Deco design technique, infusing the elements of minimalistic and geometric lines into it’s handbags. Jill Milan bags has become a fashion staple for A-listers like Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington. Jill Milan is headquartered in San Francisco, but everything is actually made in Italy – in the Lake Como, Florence, or Alba regions.
Jill Fraser, The Art Deco of Jill Milan
JTH – Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from?
JF – I am from Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, although I have lived in England, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
JTH – Do you consider yourself an artist?
JF – My training is in advertising, marketing, and public relations so I consider myself artistic but not an artist.
JTH – How would you describe your personal style?
JF – I wear pretty classic clothes – pencil skirts and blouses.
JTH – What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in fashion?
JF – Never, ever burn bridges, and especially don’t make disparaging remarks about people on social media. It will always come back to haunt you. Other than that, I think it’s a good idea to work for someone else who has a company in your area of interest before starting your own company. Save a lot of cash before you start your company too. You will need it!
JTH – When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
JF – I realized I wanted to go into this business when I couldn’t find Italian handbags that were suitable for work and for evening wear that weren’t derived from animal products. Most of the bags I was finding were made in Asia of fabrics that were not of the highest quality.
JTH – What do you love about San Francisco?
JF – The city encourages change and individualism. For instance, San Francisco has been occupied by Spanish settlers, gold miners, Chinese immigrants, and later the dot-comers. These individuals all left their families and friends behind to seek a better life. San Francisco is a city of risk-takers and more than a few mavericks.
My great-grandfather was the renowned architect, Lucius Briggs, who designed throughout the early part of the 20th century, so I greatly admire San Francisco’s architecture – the Art Deco influences, for instance. In San Francisco, too, there are so many opportunities to partner with charitable causes. Finally, San Francisco has an extremely vibrant arts community, which makes the city very interesting and stimulating.
JTH – Tell me about the vision behind the ‘Jill Milan’ brand?
JF – My vision was to create a vegan brand that is on par with some of the finest European fashion brands. To do this, we source the best Italian fabrics, manufacture at family-owned ateliers in Italy, and never compromise on quality in any way. For instance, all the ateliers we work with have been owned by the same families for generations and they all have worked with leading luxury brands such as Bulgari.
From an aesthetic point of view, our pieces are not fussy. Even our evening clutches are very clean and simple – no crystals or that sort of thing. Designing bags with vegan materials also has its own set of challenges so we’ve really learned how to work within those constraints.
JTH – What is the best perk in being a founder of an accessories line?
JF – Getting to meet and know designers in areas such as jewelry and apparel.
JTH – What is the most difficult aspect of running your own label versus i.e. design, production, sales, finance, advertising?
JF – My background has been in marketing and my business partner handles finance. We have an Italian production manager but I would say that we made our most expensive mistakes in production. You have to be very careful in selecting the right production manager, the right materials, and the manufacturer that can create your product line.
JTH – What trends do you see being big for 2018?
JF – In a broader sense, I think people are becoming increasingly interested in ethical fashion. I also think that they are becoming more interested in personalization, in customizing accessories or clothes to their own tastes.
JTH – What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a fashion line?
JF – Our bags have been featured in “W Magazine” several times and have appeared in many other national magazines. We have been carried on the red carpet by Eva Longoria, Anne Hathaway, Carrie Underwood, Rachel Nichols, Isla Fisher, Fiona Gubelmann, and many other celebrities.
JTH – Favorite City/Country to Visit?
JF -Probably Lake Como or Venice. I spend a lot of time in Lake Como and the architecture and the towns are amazingly beautiful.
JTH – Favorite Vegan Restaurant?
JF – I love Gracias Madre and Crossroads in L.A.
JTH – Your Mantra?
JF – Don’t be afraid to fail. And you won’t realize you know absolutely nothing until you get older.
JTH – Guilty Pleasure?
JF – I have an obsession with Smarties. It’s really embarrassing how many I eat.