Lilli Millhiser on pups, pens, & staying polite.

Lilli Millhiser is a New York based stylist whose work has appeared in Town & Country, Porter Magazine, and The New Order. She also has the greatest stationary collection we’ve ever laid eyes on and the most adorable dog in Brooklyn.

Q /  Hi Lilli! Hope you are having a good morning! How do you usually start your day? Any routine that gets you up and going?
A / I don’t like to be rushed in the morning and prefer to ease into the day, so get up early, around seven, but definitely hit the snooze button often. I try to do Barre3 exercises on my ipad in the morning and then I walk our dog, Cole. If I’m not on set then I always read the paper (paper version) while eating breakfast.

Q / Do you have a daily uniform?
A /I pretty much wear jeans (high waist, mostly vintage) all the time.

Q / Is there anything you carry with you every day? If so, why is it important to you?
A / Wallet, phone, keys, notebook. Otherwise, I always wear a ring that belonged to maternal grandmother. It has been on my right pinky since she passed away when I was pretty young.

Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive? Anything specific that helps keep you focused?
A / I’m generally pretty organized and focused, but it depends on what I have to do. You know that saying, if you want something done, give it to someone who’s busy (or something like that), that’s pretty much how I function. If I’m busy I can do more, but if I’m not, it’s sometimes impossible to even accomplish one simple task since I think I have so much time to do it. If I’m not busy I usually get inspired at night.

Q / What is your favorite place to work? Do you prefer being on set or preparing for a shoot?
A / My office in the city or my couch in Brooklyn. If I don’t have to be in my office then I prefer to be home with the pup. I definitely prefer being on set, but you can only be comfortable there if you’ve thoroughly prepped the shoot.

Q / Do you find lists helpful? How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / I love lists and I usually start/end the day with a list of what I need to do – the act of writing it down helps me remember. I use stickie notes on my computer to keep shoots organized – I find them easier for keeping track of what I’m calling in, when it’s coming, what’s still M.I.A., things like that – you can move things around a bit more easily – but I always have a notebook on me for the more immediate reminders. I’m always impressed with people who can do everything on their phones, but digital notes always get lost for me – I need to see notes to remember them and like crossing things off. I stick to the same notebook brand/style for an “era” and keep them all. For Lawren [Howell] I had one style, Kate [Young] another and now I’m using Rollbahns and always have a Muji 0.38mm pen.

Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I’m super organized but can’t remember anyone’s name. Love when people wear name tags, as cheesy as that is.

Q / What do you like most about styling? What is the most challenging thing about it?
A / Playing. I love how you can play with clothes and…create a character. Some are more exciting than others, but it’s just as interesting to provide wardrobe for a chef for an ad job, for example, as it is to do a fashion editorial – usually the characters I’m most unfamiliar with teach me the most, leading me to some specialty store that caters to them and other characters who have awesome uniforms too. The most challenging is how subjective defining styles can be. People often rely on language to try to convey what they’re after, but since we’re trying to express something visually, a picture is ten times more helpful. How one defines “chic,” for example, might not be how I define it. It’s not about who defines it better, its about understanding someone else’s definition of it.

Q / Is there anything you will never take seriously? Something that’s very important to you?
A / Hmm, not sure about the first part. Kayne I guess. And the Kardashians. Important? Integrity, especially in this industry – treating people with respect. It really bums me out watching people talk down to someone just because they can. Constructive criticism is important, but there’s no need to be a dick.

Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / Home is the best for quiet, but I love the subway as well – there’s nothing like listening to some music on the train and zoning out…I think it has to do with the rhythm of it. I don’t understand people who live in New York and say they hate the subway.

Q / How does your home influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / I guess it lets me relax. Having an office that’s not at my house is great – not only does it mean not having to carry things up numerous flights of stairs, but I don’t have to be surrounded by my work. I feel like I’m never not working, but having an office lets me separate things a little more. All my art books and doodads are at home though, so it’s good for getting inspired.

Q / You’ve spent most of your life living in New York. How would you say the city has shaped your perception of work?
A / I don’t think growing up here really shaped my perception of work, but I think once you’re of working age here, or have at least found your career path (particularly in the creative fields), you learn pretty quickly that it’s sink or swim. This city attracts the best of the best and people who are hungry, so if you don’t want to give something your all, there are plenty of other people who do and will take your place in a second. In as much as I’d like to think that I work to live, you kinda have to live to work in order to work this hard. But that’s also a good thing – it keeps you on your toes and pushes you to be better. There are only four places I can do what I do – here, LA, Paris and London. LA has grown on me and I love London and Paris, but I don’t think I’ll ever leave. New York is just the best of the best.

Q / What is your first memory of work? Of success? Of failure?
A / Probably a lemonade stand. I remember interning at BPCM and feeling like I was doing the right thing, just staying busy, always doing something, anything besides sitting down, taking initiative, which eventually got me hired, so I guess that’s success right there. Failure: oh man, so many. I’m dyslexic so school was tough – I wouldn’t go back to school if my life depended on it…the idea of writing a paper terrifies me. There were just constant failures where my mind was in the right place, but one silly thing would get mixed up and basically lead me to the opposite of what was right.

Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, do they influence you creatively?
A / I have a couple that were mostly started when I was a kid and I keep up with because they’ve become harder and harder to find – floaty pens, matchbooks, hotel stationary (new obsession) and flat souvenir pennies you can do in those machines. Wouldn’t say they necessarily influence me creatively though.

Q / How would you define beauty and what part does it play in your work as a stylist?
A / Unfussy and understated. In general I don’t think I have a particularly heavy hand – I like things clean and edited, but I wouldn’t be opposed to doing something really over the top – that opportunity just hasn’t come up yet and it would be a fun challenge.

Q / Social media and the internet play such a huge part in the fashion industry. Do you find them useful as tools? How would you say they factor into your work?
A / I love pinterest and have had a tumblr and instagram for a while, but I’m a bit conflicted. My pinterest and tumblr are anonymous, which I like. I wouldn’t mind people knowing that it’s me, but they’re not vehicles for self promotion, which I’m rather uncomfortable with anyway. Pinterest is simply a place I try to organize visual references and tumblr is more of a continuous mood board. Instagram I’m constantly thinking about deleting.

Q /Is there anything in particular that you find problematic about them?
A / It has become too much about quantity instead of quality. And self promotion. I know it’s important, but it makes me uncomfortable.

Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / I prefer to disconnect, but that’s so hard to do unless internet simply isn’t available.

Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / Frequent cheap chinatown massages, facials at Mario Badescu, and needlepointing during Netflix marathons so I don’t feel too bad about watching so much tv.

Q / I know you’ve mentioned that you never imagined working in the fashion world and actually studied art history. Was there any particular person who led you to change direction and helped shape your career in formative way?
A / When I quit working for BPCM, Ali, their west coast director, immediately said “so, you’re going into styling, right?” It had honestly never occurred to me and I didn’t even really pursue it once I left. I was working at Maryam Nassir Zadeh when Lawren [Howell] got in touch with me, and with the encouragement of Ali and Carrie Phillips, once I experienced working with her, I knew styling was what I wanted to do.

Q / How did your parents feel about your career path? Does anyone in your family work in the same industry?
A / My parents have always been extremely encouraging and supportive, but I think they are most happy that I’ve just found something that I enjoy doing. I definitely get my interest in fashion from my mom, but I never knew anyone who worked in the fashion industry, so I never really knew it was an option.

Q / You worked in public relations for some time. Is there anything you miss about that aspect of the business or do you prefer the more creative side?
A / It was a great first job and it introduced me to the fashion world, but I don’t miss that side of it. Although, I do kind of miss working in an office with a bunch of awesome people – it was a great little family at BPCM and I keep in touch with a lot of them.

Q / What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The funniest?
A / Being a tour guide in college – both the worst and funniest.

Q / You recently began working on your own after assisting several truly amazing stylists including Kate Young and Lawren Howell. Is there any advice they gave you that really resonated in terms of the way you balance your work and personal life?

A / Lawren was my first foray into styling, so I learned a lot fast – I had no experience other than being on the receiving end of request emails at BPCM and working the front desk at Pier 59, but that helped me understand the bigger picture. I think one of the best things I took away from my time with Kate is that you can do this and have a personal life and a family. She would make dinner every night for her family (she’s a great cook). I also remember soon after I started working for her she made a comment about not working late for the sake of it – of course do it if it’s necessary, but it should be the exception, not the rule…if you are, you’re probably not being efficient with your time and spending too much time looking at dumb shit on the internet. If it’s up to me I finish work at six. I think it’s just as important to not work and recharge as it is to work…most inspirations come while not working.

Q / What was it like moving on from assisting and venturing out on your own? Was there a particular moment when you felt you were ready or was it more of a natural progression?
A / It was pretty organic, but I’ve always felt like I got into styling at a kind of “old” age so my 30th birthday definitely lit the fire a little more. I wouldn’t have moved on if I didn’t think I was ready.

Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / Seeing a beautiful final image that I’m not just satisfied with because I worked on it, but would peak my interest regardless of my involvement

Q / How does working as a stylist affect the rest of your life? Personally? Financially? Time-wise?
A / I’m not sure if this is specific to styling, but freelancing is pretty nonstop. You’re kind of never not working since there isn’t the safety net of a pay check every two weeks, but it’s also great if you have a day off in the middle of the week. As a stylist, I’m always looking at clothes so am therefore pretty much always shopping (for a job) and am, therefore, inevitably picking something up for myself. I’ve gotten better at that, but also not really. Zara gets new deliveries every Monday, FYI.

Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A / I’m rather hard on myself, so I’m still waiting for it.

Q / What are you looking forward to this year? Any adventures on the horizon?
A / Honestly, just to continue working. I’ve only been on my own for a year so I’m still figuring out the ebb and flows. I just got back from safari in Africa with my family, which was amazing, so no crazy adventures on the horizon. However, two very good friends are getting married within a couple of weeks of each other this fall, so that will be fun.

Q / Lastly, could you let us in on ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?

1. My happy place – on the couch with Chris and Cole.
2. The Dutch – all time favorite bar in New London, CT, where I went to college.
3. Riverside Drive and Morningside Heights.
4. Art by Claire Oswalt, Rosemarie Auberson, Landon Metz and Nathalie du Pasquier, as well as my mom’s paintings, and photos by Viviane Sassen.
5. The Marriot in Times Square – take the elevator without anyone else so you can go straight to the top – the elevators are glass and it’s a pretty awesome view, a la Andreas Gursky. My dad showed me this when I was a kid, pre broadway show.
6. Novels by Donna Tartt and Hanya Yanagihara.
7. Sharktooth home store in Williamsburg – I want pretty much everything.
8. My mom’s homemade raspberry jam – I get a jar every Christmas and it’s really best on a fresh hot croissant, but that’s not so easy to find near me, so I eat it with a spoon. Once I’ve broken the wax seal, it’s hard for me to stay away.
9. Glasserie at the tip of Greenpoint – mediterranean/middle eastern food…delicious.
10. Really loving furniture by Chris Lehrecke and Sawkille.

Interview & Photography
Catherine Litke

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