Just a few miles away from the cookie-cutter designs offered at J.Crew and Gap in NorthPark Center, a very different style scene took place at Piermarini Boutique in Snider Plaza. On Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, stylists, fashion bloggers and shoppers browsed the modernist womenswear that graced the metal racks and complemented the exposed brick wall and cool, concrete floors. Basic, black leggings with a strip of leather down the side, an all-black cardigan with leather sleeves and a black dress with mesh cutouts all flew off the shelves.
Mila Hermanovski, a two-time “Project Runway” contestant, was introducing her current yet classic Fall 2013 collection to a crowd of about 100 people. Hermanovski wore her black Jutas dress, made of rayon with a hammered finish and sheen, and paired it with her riding pants-inspired Forma leggings. Maison Martin Margiela black ankle boots, clean, modern, statement jewelry and Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady perfume finished off Hermanovski’s look.
Hermanovski comes from a long line of women not afraid to stand out in a room. Her grandmother was a sewer and her mother, Carol Hermanovski, works as an interior designer. Growing up in a house full of fabric swatches in the hippie period of the early 1970s, Hermanovski would watch her mother make unique clothes for her. An orange, velvet vest with a lace-up tie detail in front paired with a orange, green, floral maxi dress is just one example of Carol Hermanovski’s creations for her daughter. “Mila always had on unusual things for a kindergartener. You couldn’t find anything else like it,” Carol Hermanovski says.
She also taught Hermanovski how to see detail at a young age.
“As a mom, I tried to teach her how to discern quality. We went shopping, and there were a bunch of the same items on the shelves. I would say, ‘Let’s really study these. This one has a flaw,’” Carol Hermanovski says.
Hermanovski made it clear she would embark on a creative path in life. At Greenhill School in Addison, Hermanovski’s middle school art teacher championed her to enter the National Scholastic Achievement Awards. Hermanovski won, and her art hung in a Florida gallery. During Hermanovski’s junior year of high school, the same teacher encouraged her to enroll in a rigorous summer program at the Rhode Island School of Design so she could experience disciplines ranging from graphic design to fine art to industrial design.
When Hermanovski enrolled in RISD for college, she chose to study apparel design and graphic design. “When I got to RISD, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Graphic design is my second love. I affiliate graphic design with boldness and structure, and I think that translates into my work,” Hermanovski says. She plays with geometric shapes and graphic elements and displays a signature stripe in most of her collections.
After graduating from RISD in 1991, Hermanovski moved to New York City determined to become the next big fashion designer. Like most college graduates, Hermanovski learned the difficulty of finding a dream job and worked in retail for about a year. After multiple interviews, she landed a position at Calvin Klein as a design assistant. Then, Hermanovski went to work on the opposite end of the spectrum at a start-up label. Instead of working in one specific area as she had at Calvin Klein, she now had a hand in a bit of everything, from designing to sourcing fabrics to organizing trade shows. “I got to do more and feel like I was more important in a way. I did learn a lot about how much is required to start up a label,” Hermanovski says.
Based on her experience, Hermanovski stresses the importance of an internship or another kind of professional experience before trying to start a business. “Learn under someone else first. There’s a whole lot that you don’t get in school that you can learn under a great mentor on someone else’s dime. Whether it’s a big company or a start-up, there’s always a ton to learn,” Hermanovski says.
After the start-up label failed to succeed, Hermanovski designed costumes for a New York University graduate student’s thesis film. She fell in love with the craft of costuming and moved to Los Angeles. There, Hermanovski worked on T.V. and film projects such as “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
During that time, the casting team for “Project Runway” approached Hermanovski to audition for the show’s seventh season in 2010. Hermanovski had about a week to create four to six pieces. “All of this pent-up creativity exploded. Mila was working non-stop. I could see that spark in her eye. You could tell this is what she needed to be doing,” Matthew Betcher, Hermanovski’s boyfriend and a branding specialist, says.
Hermanovski presented the pieces to fashion industry experts and “Project Runway” judges Tim Gunn, Nick Verreos and Zoe Glassner, and scored herself a spot on the show. Hermanovski recalls one of the best moments when fashion designer Michael Kors said, “I knew the minute that turned around on the scrim, it was a Mila!” Hermanovski’s distinct point of view enabled her to finish third in the competition and come back for an all-star season.
However, “Project Runway” wasn’t always as glamorous as it appeared. “The worst experience was having to walk away from my collection that I’d put my blood, sweat and tears into and knowing I would never touch it again,” Hermanovski says. “Project Runway” owns the rights to the collections created on the show. Regardless, the show reignited Hermanovski’s passion to work as a designer.
After the show, Hermanovski continued to make collections on her own, but she didn’t sell them except to small boutiques and on an individual customer basis. Hermanovski knew she if she really wanted to create a legitimate business, she would have to successfully present a Fall 2013 collection at the Los Angeles Fashion Market.
When Hermanovski was in the middle of designing her Fall 2013 collection, Ziggy, a Dalmatian she had for 14 years, passed away at Christmas time. “I told her to use the pain, tenderness and grieving in her heart and redirect it into creativity, because some of the most wonderful art and music has been created by a broken heart,” Carol Hermanovski says.
Hermanovski designed the Ziggy hoodie, a soft and cuddly sweatshirt that reminds her of hugging her dog, as a focal piece for the collection. “The collection is called Embrace, because it’s about embracing what you had, embracing what you lost as well and knowing the spirit is still there,” Hermanovski says.
She presented Embrace at LA Market worried no one would buy anything. Hermanovski ended up writing orders to Shopbop, Kitson and Piermarini, with the Ziggy hoodie as a bestseller.
Hermanovski’s collection fits perfectly with the variety of Piermarini Boutique’s clientele. “Some women like to have tight-fitting everything and other women like more loose styles, and Mila achieves that balance. Mila doesn’t alienate anyone. Our mission at the store is to make sure everyone is comfortable when they come in,” says John Piermarini, the owner of Piermarini Boutique.
At the trunk show, a 76-year-old woman bought Hermanovski’s black suit jacket with leather sleeves. At the same time, Piermarini remarked that a Hermanovski dress he ordered for spring would make a great prom dress.
Today, Hermanovski can be found in her 2,800 square foot studio in the arts district of downtown LA working on her Fall 2014 collection and juggling the manufacturing and production of the previous season. “I’m learning so much about the fashion business and wearing all the hats at this beginner stage,” Hermanovski says.