BEHIND THE BRAND: Millesia

In the year French lingerie label Millesia celebrates its 20th anniversary, it has finally made the move to the UK, bringing with it luxury products made using innovative manufacturing techniques. But why now? CEO Charles de Tournay explains.

As 2014 draws to a close, French luxury label Millesia is winding down after a year-long celebration of its 20th anniversary.

Unlike other French lingerie brands like Maison Lejaby, Aubade and Simone Pérèle, which have been going for 60 years or more, Millesia is a relatively new company.

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But this year marked a major milestone for the luxury business, which has made a significant mark on lingerie manufacturing in terms of innovation, and has overcome hardships in recent times.

The brand, whose name comes from the word millésime – meaning vintage in the French wine industry – has character, finesse and is now as mature and full-bodied as ever.

This year also marked Millesia’s introduction into the UK market through its partnership with Patrica Eve, the UK distributor of lingerie and swimwear brands such as Naomi & Nicole, Bodywrap and Miraclesuit.

“The first contact we had with Patricia Eve was at the end of last year and we started to discuss [our partnership] with them in January in Paris,” says Millesia CEO, Charles de Tournay.

“I found the people of Patricia Eve to be very dynamic and young. I think they’d be a good team to work with for the next 20 years, I would say, because of their energy and their will to expand into the future. They’re not stuck in the past.”

“We started to quickly work together after the Paris, July fair and the first UK show we did was the one in Birmingham [Moda] in August. We’ve had good reactions so far to the French sexy design,” he adds.

Indeed, Millesia already has 30 UK accounts, with independent boutiques from Chantilly in Rochdale to Juste Moi in Dartmouth receiving stock over the next two seasons.

So why has it taken 20 years for the lingerie brand to make the move across the English Channel?

“It’s really a question of people,” says de Tournay. “You need to build trust and confidence in the market before people are sure they’re going to respect what you’re creating.”

“If you go through a distribution partner who is already [in the UK] and has proved for two generations the fact that its company is a strong one, it’s time gained,” he explains.

“Before even knowing or meeting with Patricia Eve we had good feedback from the market. So we had to chase them, I would say, until we met them. And, on discussing the future, we found that we had similar views.”

Discussing what makes Millesia stand out from French brands that have long been established in the UK, de Tournay says: “I think we bring some fresh air in terms of sexy and feminine design based on our customers’ needs.”
“I think that this is what we have to promote and develop as far as we can. We have a sexy design, but it’s not too sexy. We just try to touch the unconsciousness of what you could do or what you dare to do,” the French businessman adds.

From the launch of Millesia in 1994, through to present day, the art of French seduction has been a constant source of inspiration for the brand. And so too has its home city of Lyon, where major innovations in lingerie were made under the influence of the court of Versailles, Parisian tailors and Italian communities during the 16th century.

And since the 16th century, silk factories have multiplied, thus contributing to the development of many specific skills such as weaving silk or corsetry, which have now become emblems in the region.
Millesia has created some timeless collections by implementing these traditional processes, whilst also adopting innovative ideas and techniques.

For instance, in the mid 90s, the brand developed the first bra made using milk yarns. Then, in 2001, it introduced a range of lingerie made of Lycra leather.

“A mixture of powder of leather and powder of Lycra were mixed together to create a fusion between elasticity and recovery properties. Out of this fabric, we conceived and manufactured lingerie,” says de Tournay.

More recently, in 2010, Millesia approached the Amoena group, a German firm which specialises in post-mastectomy bras, to create a special collection called French Touch.

“We proposed to them saying ‘well, what about producing post mastectomy bras, but with a fashion consciousness and a high positioning?’ They were attracted by the idea so, together, we developed the first fashionable post-mastectomy bras. And now I guess this is kind of the standard thing to do in the market,” de Tournay recalls.

Despite this constant innovation, the 2008 recession brought on hardships for the brand, which resulted in a complete restructure of the business.

In 2010, Millesia founder Daniel Perret had a chance encounter with Charles de Tournay in a shirt boutique, and the pair became business partners.

De Tournay, who had previously worked in sales and marketing for Wacoal, joined Perret and his daughter Veronique, together with textile engineers Michel and Emmanuel Machart, to revive the splendour of the brand by reorganising workshops, distribution and sourcing.

Millesia survived the hardships and as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, its outlook for the future seems to be stronger than ever. Since 2010, sales have multiplied four-fold.

Going forward, Millesia hopes to strengthen its distribution network across the UK.

“That requires more human resources trying to convince retailers to take us on,” says de Tournay. “I would say that one of our key steps would be to launch in a UK department store, possibly next year or
in 2016.”

From a product perspective, the brand has plans to implement more exclusive fabrics into its collections and improve the structure of its garments.

“We believe the products have to adapt to the woman’s body. We very seldom have moulded cups – we prefer cut-and-seam products,” explains de Tournay.

“We have a lot of tiny pieces that combine together to make a bra because we want to bring comfort. Structure is very important to us,” he adds.

“The positioning of the collection globally over the next few months will be a better ratio between the quality of fabrics, the intricacies of the products’ construction and the prices of the products we bring to the market.”

Asked how the brand can improve the quality of materials, de Tournay explains: “You can improve the fabrics by multiplying the number of embroidered points per square inch. The more you have, the better the embroidery and look is going to be.”

“You can also stitch or weld together the embroidery to make guipure fabrics. Then you attach everything together from the back of the fabrics with a laser beam to make it flat,” he continues.

“It’s a rather more time consuming process, but brings you closer to haute couture. But, at the same time, we are conscious that we cannot increase the price where there is no more market. In our corsetry you still have to respect the industrial limits.”

De Tournay also gives a glimpse into future innovations, without giving too much away. “The kind of innovation we will bring at the end of next year and more probably at the beginning of 2016
is the digitalisation of our products,” he says.

“We will bring and finish the concept of this new line somewhere I think in January or February 2015. And from there onwards, we will build a business plan of bringing this concept to the market. I can’t tell you anymore than this. You’ll have to give me another call next year!”

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