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She has made her name, and her brand, by sharing her life online, but Millie Mackintosh knows the downside of oversharing, too. Sarah Caden talks to the Instagram star about her transition from reality TV to fashion design
When Millie Mackintosh was at boarding school, she learned to sew. Of course she did, you say, but don’t pigeon-hole her as a posh girl with a marriageable accomplishment just yet.
The school had sewing machines and taught its pupils how to use patterns and make clothes. By the time she was 16, Millie was selling dresses to her friends.
At that young age, she was doing an internship for a lingerie designer, Millie explains to me over lunch in the Marker Hotel. The designer gave her offcuts of silk to experiment with. “I’d make these very simple babydoll-style slip dresses, and I’d sew my school name tapes into the back as the labels. I’d give them to my friends. Then, after a while, people started wanting to buy them.
“Then when I moved to London when I was about 18, I brought my sewing machine and was still making dresses. I loved it, but I had no sense that I could turn it into a business or how you would do that.”
A decade later, Millie is making clothes for a living. That’s something of an understatement, really.
She’s sitting in front of me in one of the designs for her eponymous label, a sheer black blouse with a floral pattern, frills on the shoulders and sleeves and a high neck. A feminine biker-style leather jacket, also from Millie’s line, is thrown over the back of the empty seat beside her. Millie’s having lunch with me in Dublin between an appearance at Arnotts Style Sessions — to launch the clothes on their shop floor — and the shoot for these pages. The in-store event went well, she says, and covered not only the clothes, but the very business of turning oneself into a brand as a means of achieving your dreams. On Instagram, where she has 1.3 million followers, Millie is quite the phenomenon. She’s an example of someone who has grown with the social media app, first appealing to those who had been fans of her on Made in Chelsea (MIC), then winning over everyone and anyone who was drawn to her style, her honey-tinted holidays, the beginning, middle and end of her marriage to musician Professor Green and, latterly, her romantic reunion with and engagement to MIC castmate Hugo Taylor. Millie concedes that Instagram has done wonders for her profile, her brand and her career, which includes a new make-up line in Boots, as well as her clothes line. She is also, however, an example of a certain Instagram arc of experience — a young, ambitious, smart woman who has learned the value of sharing, but also the downside of oversharing. The former can get you far. The latter can hurt you. “It’s hard — it’s a struggle,” she says of keeping up Instagram and knowing when enough is enough. “I do enjoy it, but it’s a really small edit of your real life. Obviously, you want to show off the exciting, glossy things, because it’s all image-based and you want to make a good impression, but it’s important to people that they know that this is what it is. And I think people do get that. They get that what I show isn’t my whole life — it’s the best bits.
“I used to share a lot more than I do now. I used to post more content, more images. Now I like it to be more edited.”
There’s no denying, though, that people really enjoy what Millie calls “the best bits”. Also, it’s possible that she underestimates the extent to which people imagine her life is all gorgeous outfits and fabulous holidays, lived in the glow of what she confesses is her favourite filter, the honeyed Valencia.
Of course, Millie first came to our attention in a format that was all about the best bits. She was working in the Space NK beauty chain when she was first approached by the producers of MIC after they had recruited certain members of her social set to star in what they hoped would be a UK version of sleek and soigne US series The Hills.
It would be staged, semi-scripted and not really reality. It was originally going to be called Chelsea Girls, Millie recalls.
Television hadn’t been something she had in her sights, but it sounded like fun when she was 21 and keen to train as a make-up artist and pursue a career in beauty and fashion. And, she admits, it was fun — until it wasn’t any more.
“You know, they had us always stepping out of Bentleys and things, and my life wasn’t really like that — I took the bus,” says Millie, whose family famously invented Quality Street.
“Going into it, I had no idea how big it would be, and that was probably a good thing. If they had said, ‘It will have this many viewers’, it would have been a different thing to agree to. It was a fun time, but after two years, it felt like my time had come to go. It didn’t feel natural for me any more. I look back and think it was a great experience.
“What came from doing it was that it was a really good platform for where I am now, but it took me a good long time afterwards to work out what path to go down.”
If she was professionally up in the air when she left MIC, then privately Millie was putting down roots.
Months after she left the show, she married musician Professor Green, and images of their wedding and life together were widely shared. They separated after two-and-a-half years of marriage, in February 2016, and that Halloween Millie ripped and splattered her wedding dress for use as fancy dress.
Not that she talks about this when we meet. In fact, I’m told in advance that she really won’t stray into the personal at all. I can congratulate her on her engagement to Hugo Taylor, who was a castmate and her boyfriend on MIC before she revealed on the show that he had cheated on her. Later, though, Millie confessed that the sight of him still gave her butterflies and that she still loved him, despite their history.
We don’t talk about this, though. I admire her engagement ring — a vintage ring that seems huge on her petite hand — and we talk in general terms about the importance of privacy in an increasingly public world.
“You definitely have to keep back something for yourself,” she says with a small smile. “Some things are meant to be kept private and they feel more special that way. Some things are perfect to share, but some are just for yourself.”
Of course, she says, she has felt pressure to overshare, but it’s something that she has decided to step away from.
“You can’t please everyone, that’s for sure, and you’d be exhausted if you tried. I post
what I post, and I think that I’d be miserable if I was posting just to try and keep people happy.”
When Millie finished with MIC, she took some time to consider her next step.
There were a few products to which she put her name, but her creative input was limited and it wasn’t very creatively fulfilling, she says. She likes to immerse herself in things, and her love of making clothes and working with colour and make-up and fashion was not going to be satisfied by simply stamping her name on the work of others.
When she did her first clothes collection, Millie knew she’d hit on what she wanted to do. She loves the long road from conceiving a collection to getting it on sale and seems honestly amazed and thrilled to have it in shops here in the UK, but also exclusively in Arnotts in Dublin and in a few stores in the US, where her TV and Christmas-chocolates background barely merits a mention.
She is also grateful that people are taking her seriously as a designer. “It took a bit of time,” she says, “for people to see that I’m not a character, I’m a real person. And as time has gone by, I think people have seen the real Millie.
“It can be hard to go from reality TV to fashion. People have preconceptions of you and I do think I have to prove myself, but, you know, then you get to the point where Vogue has written positively about you and it’s very exciting and rewarding.”
In this ever-changing age, careers are chameleon-like and, as Millie puts it, the people she admires are those who “switch and change”.
Elle Macpherson — supermodel/lingerie designer/superfood guru — is one source of inspiration, but Nicole Richie is Millie’s superhero, and you can see why.
Richie was the ditzy sidekick to Paris Hilton on The Simple Life who went on to lose a lot of weight, completely restyle herself as a fashionista and launch a very successful clothing line. Richie caught our attention on TV and used that as a springboard to reinvent and relaunch herself. And we bought it.
That doesn’t always happen, and Millie is cognisant of that. Often, we are so wedded to the persona that initially won our attention that we resent any rejection of it. We don’t allow characters to change and so, we ditch them. It is the blessed few who are allowed to “switch and change”, but Millie might be one of them.
Certainly, she feels that she has switched and changed enough since MIC for that to be a footnote to who and what she is now.
Also, she points out, reality TV has changed a lot even since her day. When I ask her if she would ever have considered a show such as Love Island, she immediately says no, but adds that she was a massive fan.
She and her girlfriends would dine out early together, dash back to their respective homes in time for the opening credits and then message each other frantically throughout. Millie even had a finale party, with “He’s not my type on paper” T-shirts. Camilla and Jonny were her favourite couple, she adds.
It was so much fun, she says, but from afar, from a life that has moved away from public oversharing that is out of your control and on an unpredictable trajectory. Millie has been there and done that and, while it was fun, it’s the past.
The future, she says, is the “rebellious English femininity” that defines her designs. Cheeky, girlie and all infused with a Valencia honeyed glow. The best bits, you might say. The Millie Mackintosh range is stocked exclusively in Arnotts
STYLE QUEEN: Millie Mackintosh and (below) modelling some of her clothing range