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2011 May 18

The Executive Files, Vol. 10: Andrew Oshrin, Milly

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Andrew Oshrin Andrew Oshrin
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(NEW YORK) Over the past decade, the industry has watched a little brand named Milly expand from a tiny contemporary collection to a full-fledged lifestyle brand. For the latest installment of the Executive Files, The Daily nabbed a sit-down with designer Michelle Smith's other half--Milly president and CEO, Andrew Oshrin. MARIA DENARDO

What's your backstory?
I grew up in Spring Valley, New York, and I went to the University of Pennsylvania. I started my major as pre-med, but ultimately switched to a business focus and graduated with a degree in economics. I then went on to graduate school and got a masters in finance from New York University. My father has a business in the fashion industry, centered in the outerwear market. I never thought I'd join him, but after I graduated college, I decided there was a lot of opportunity. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I learned what it was like to work in a warehouse and a showroom. 

How did you meet Michelle?
She was working at Hermès, and one of my dearest friends was the director of PR. She tried to set us up, but Michelle had just gotten back from Paris and was dating a French gentlemen. We didn't meet until later, when she applied to work in our family business. I didn't know she was the same person. She had an unbelievable resume, and I conducted her first interview with the company. You should ask her about it. She said she had a crush on me, but I don't know about all that.

When did you ask her out?
Several years later, when she came to a summer party we were throwing in the Hamptons. It was the night of a hurricane, and a lot of people couldn't get out there. Those that were there had to go indoors into our house--hundreds of people packed in. We had a great time.

What was your first date like?
We were with a friend of mine, and we went out to a Chinese dinner on the Upper West Side.

Did you pay for your first date?
Sure, I pay for every date. I'm still paying for them!

Do you call her Milly?
I don't, but our daughter does.

How often do you see Michelle during the work day?
We wake up in the morning and watch Morning Joe. The kids end up being in our bedroom in the morning, watching cartoons before we get up. We take our daughter to nursery school 95 percent of the time. Mommy and daddy drop-off is very important to us, because we're not always there during the day. Afterwards, Michelle and I have coffee at Via Quadronno on 73rd Street. I have a latte, and she has a mocha. When we're here at the office, I don't see her a lot. Her office is on the other side of the building.

Did you plan it that way?
Yes! I'm relatively neat, and she's relatively not. And we both do very different things all day. I see her more when she does public appearances!

How much do you manage each other?
My title is president and CEO of the business, but I don't look at it like I'm her boss. We're business partners. There are certain times when I'll have to say, 'This is the way it has to go.' I really respect her opinion on everything, though. She's a fantastic designer with a creative soul. What surprised me the most was her business savvy from a gut standpoint. She consistently has a good feel for people and situations.

Do you bring work home?
We try not to, but with technology, it can be difficult. Sometimes when there are critical things happening, I'll bring it up. Michelle will say, 'Listen, Andy. Please don't talk about this now. I'm in bed trying to watch Mad Men.' It's stressful being in this position; I have to make sure we hit our goals and help our employees to hit theirs. I feel responsible for everyone.

What's the most rewarding part working with your wife?
When we started this business, Michelle was a young woman. She had a vision for what she wanted to do, and I trusted her. Every day I know that was the right decision. She impresses me with how much she knows and has learned along the way.

What's lunch like for you?
75 percent of the time, I eat at my desk while I work. Sometimes, Michelle and I order Lazzara's. We work hard, and we're too busy to eat out all the time. I'd rather spend that half hour working so I can get home earlier. Michelle's an awesome mom; she's the same way. We don't usually leave at the same time. She generally leaves at 6:30 p.m., and I'll leave around 7.

How important is Bergdorf Goodman to the brand?
We launched at Barneys in 2001, and that didn't work out so great. It was during a recession. Spring was pretty good, but fall wasn't successful. We identified Bergdorf as a store that fit our brand. They were undergoing a transformation on the fifth floor, and we partnered with them. It was the best decision we made. The executive team, especially Jim Gold, have been so supportive of Michelle as a designer. They give her the opportunity to have events two times a year.

What are your biggest challenges?
It changes as the business evolves. Today, the challenge is moving our small business to the next stage. It requires planning, hiring, and investments that don't feel as safe. Over the past year, we've launched an e-commerce, a handbag line, and a jewelry division. We have to be able to get that all done and still make sure we get the highest return on assets and maintain the essence of the brand.

How has the economy affected Milly?
In 2008, we had reached a strong level of sales at all the major retailers; it was our best year. We have a product with a very feminine DNA. Our core customers were still there, but the fashion trend went against us at the time. After the first quarter in 2009, we had a rough year. We lost 20-25 percent of our organic revenue for key parts of our business. Fortunately, we planned our business very tight and were able to come back from that. The last year, our business has grown organically 10-15 percent, and we exceeded our revenue plan.

What changes did you implement to help the business?
We always keep a tight inventory, but that year we bought less than the expected forecast.

How important is celebrity dressing to the brand?
We want the person wearing our clothing to come to it organically. We don't pay celebrities. We want them to wear our product because they love it. Of course, we would love to have celebs sit front row at our shows. We invite women who we think fit the brand. If they come, it really tells us that our product is desirable to them.

How is Milly perceived internationally?
We manufacture domestically, and our materials are from Italy. When we launched in Europe, we had a higher price point. In the U.K., we were not in the diffusion store. We were in the main store sitting next to Missoni and Prada. Our Italian customers love Milly!

Have you always been a strong leader?
I've always showed leadership qualities. I was an athlete--that helped me. I learned a lot along the way, too. As you get older, the empathy factor comes in. It's important to understand what other people think and what motivates them.

What do you do to help motivate your staff?
I take an interest in who they are and what they're doing. I try to make them laugh. I look into their eyes to see if they're happy, and if they're sad, it's my business to find out why and help them. This is a familial organization. Michelle and I own 100 percent of the business, and it's our goal to make this company a place where people are happy, and they can feel like this is a place where they can fulfill their own goals. Everyone has a stake in this business.

What's next for Milly?
We're going to have to sit and see what happens in the next six months. I see other brand extensions, like footwear, in our future. Michelle certainly has a strong affinity for the product! We also want to expand our retail. We want to build off of the areas outside of New York that have Milly fans.

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