Saturday, June 11, 2011


I recently became the proud owner of this sweet-as-pie swimsuit, The Dollar by local label Black Milk:

I actually hadn't heard of the label, designed by James Lillis, until Tavi of Style Rookie posted a picture of herself wearing Black Milk's sacrelicious Cathedral leggings:

Pretty dope, eh?

One of the things I find most interesting about the label is Lillis' accompanying blog, the surprisingly frank Too Many Tights. Remember in The Simpsons how Mr Burns finishes singing "See My Vest" by saying, 'I really like the vest!'? Well Lillis really likes the tights.

It's pretty incredible to be able to track the progression of the label, especially given that Lillis seems to have been largely self-taught as a designer and sewer (sorry, I can't for the life of me think of a synonym for that word). As someone who lives in fear of working with stretch fabrics, I was filled with jealous admiration while reading over Lillis' development as a designer and, I gather, the sole constructor of his garments during the early days.

If someone decides to write a history of this label, they'll have their work cut out for them. If the blog is true to real-time, then it seems that Lillis spent late-2008 and early-2009 creating the kind of metallic, often patterned leggings that are probably most readily associated with American Apparel. In fact Lillis makes reference to AA in one rather nice post in which he discusses the question of garment-pricing:

"And then you've got companies like American Apparel keeping guys like me honest. You know they're going to be doing stuff at a good price, and if independents like myself want to ask for more, we better have a damn good reason. You can't trade off your name - because no one's heard of you!"

Around about April 2009 Lillis' wares made great leaps in construction complexity, with the release of his Spiderman and Cage leggings:

And throughout the blog Lillis discusses in detail his approach to design and how he deals with the problems he encounters when trialing new fabrics and designs.

TMT posts range from being endearingly geeky to uncommonly (for the fashion world) canny. Take for example his October 2009 post, 'Let's All Be Racist!'

"Funny thing about talking about clothing manufacturing - a lot of people kinda go all racist on me.

Me: Yeah, got a lot happening at the moment. There has been a lot of interest in the Black Milk gear and I'm struggling to keep up with demand.

Person: Oh, I know what you should do - just hire and Asian for $2 an hour. Me: ... um... that's kind of racist, don't you think?

Person: No, not at all, those Asians, they'll work 16 hours for a bowl of rice.

I have had variants upon that conversation more times than I care to remember. "

After releasing The Dollar swimsuit in October of 2010 he blogged

'Now, I know what you are thinking: "Dollar leggings - you copycat! We all know Jeremy Scott did that like 2 years ago!!!" I know. However, (and don't tell Jeremy this) I think I can do them a little cooler.'

And I bet he could.

In June 2009 Lillis used a Star Wars metaphor to explain why he would no longer be personally sewing all the items he sold. While I do not doubt Lillis' dedication to creating well-made garments, I wonder if the shift to outsourcing labour has impacted on their quality output - I couldn't help but notice that the shoulder straps on my swimmers vary slightly in width.

But let's not end on a crud note. LOOK AT THESE RIGHTEOUS SWIMMERS.

1 comment:

Fashademic said...

The ribcage swimmers! YES.
Also, my mind is choked with endless blogephemera and so I can pointlessly tell you that Queen Michelle from Kingdom of Style is a big Black Milk fan if you want to... look at more of his stuff styled different ways? fangirl her about your shared appreciation? join me in the land of useless information? (it's like a Choose Your Own Adventure sentence. Or a life sentence. )