“I have dressed women for all of their milestones. I have shared in their memories and special moments. To have touched so many lives over the decades is something I never take for granted. It is these unique relationships that give me the most happiness and pride.”

Milli Gould

In 1964, Milli Gould opened her first boutique in Hamilton, Ontario. This was a time of significant social and political changes such as Beatlemania permeating the airwaves, people taking to the streets for civil rights and women’s rights, and Vidal Sassoon repopularising the bob cut hairstyle. Fifty-five years later, the boutique has not only survived these changes but evolved with them to become one of Canada’s most iconic and beloved luxury retailers.

To celebrate the legacy of her eponymous label, the Art Gallery of Hamilton presents a new exhibition in honour of Milli Gould and her fashion empire. On Friday, April 13th, 2019, Fashion Ecstasy had the esteemed pleasure of attending the media preview for Milli: A Celebration of Style, a retrospective of her trailblazing career in the fashion business.
After arriving at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in a limo (!), we gathered just outside of Gallery Level 2 to meet Milli Gould, her sons Ben and Mark Gould, and Nolan Bryant, the exhibition’s guest curator. (Side note: many thanks to Duet PR and Gem Limo for making this first-time limo rider’s dream come true.) It was a pleasure to meet all of them, who were gracious, engaging, kind, and good-natured. Soon we were all escorted upstairs so we could begin our tour of the exhibition.

Nolan led the group on an informal tour and guided us through three rooms that contained various garments and artifacts, many of which were donated or on loan from Milli’s devoted clients, past and present. The outfits on display were paired with mindfully chosen artwork from the art gallery’s archives to illustrate how both fashion and art can reflect the social context of the time period.

For example, one room contained a handful of elegant evening gowns, a glass display case full of Fornasetti china and cutlery, and candid photographs from the 1975 Academy Awards ceremony and Vanity Fair After Party shot by Larry Fink. The theme of this room was Social Graces, to highlight Milli’s gift for being a wonderful hostess who can find her clients the perfect attire for any social occasion. Many of her clients would travel to find that knock-out look for their special event, be it a black-tie fundraiser or baptism.

She often treated her out-of-town clients to light lunch and afternoon tea in her boutique during their appointments. A gold tiered floor-length gown from Donald Brooks (from Milli’s personal collection) was one of the dazzling dresses featured in the collection and is worthy of ‘Oscar red carpet’ status.

Other ensemble-art pairings included a Michael Simon black and white beaded Marilyn Monroe cardigan (c.1977) displayed alongside the Andy Warhol screenprint, Jackie II (1966), speaking to Warhol’s commentary on the blurred boundaries between politics and pop culture.
One display entitled, Symbols of Strength, featured a lot of black and red outfits (black and being the go-to colours to convey power and sternness) with a series of black woodcuts on woven paper by acclaimed filmmaker and visual artist Mohawk artist, Shelley Niro. This set of artwork that featured Native women wearing themes of intellect, spirit, emotion, and strength on their traditional clothing, provided a powerful backdrop for this collection. This collection epitomizes Milli’s foresight into seeing what women need in a world where we are all standing up and claiming new spaces and roles. Having survived devastating loss, trauma, and tragedy herself, fashion became a pillar of strength and empowerment for Milli. To this day, she continues to use her fashion business to empower others. Standout pieces included a Giorgio Armani power suit and a cranberry red cocktail dress worn by Jean Davey (Canada’s first female stockbroker). A black Gemy Maloouf cocktail dress with a sheer corset bodice and just-above-the-knee length skirt was donated to the exhibition by a client who wore it to her fiftieth birthday party. It earned a spot in the collection because it takes a lot of guts to pull off such a daring and wicked sexy dress. And for a milestone birthday, props to the dress’s owner for slaying her fiftieth birthday in style!
Milli: A Celebration of Style is more than just a celebration of Milli Gould’s incredible legacy. It exalts the deep emotional connection between the owner of the garment and the garment itself and highlights how fashion and art are mirrors for the social and political changes of the period. The exhibition is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton until February 9, 2020.

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