Greg Mills, a deep-rooted fashion executive who worked for designers like Perry Ellis, Stephen Sprouse and Isaac Mizrahi during their breakout periods, died Nov. 2.
Mills, 76, died at the Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, N.J., of congestive heart failure, according to his sister Doreen DeLucca.
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During his career, Mills had a knack for aligning with designers whose name recognition had not yet taken hold, including Ellis, Sprouse and Isaac Mizrahi. He was also at Anne Klein & Co. when Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio led design, after Klein died in 1974. Over time, each of these creatives would become breakout stars with a defined point of view and independent streak that defined easily understandable American sportswear that appealed to a wide swath of shoppers. Mills also consulted with Badgley Mischka at one point.
Along the way, Mills befriended Bergdorf Goodman’s charismatic and unflappable personal shopper Betty Halbreich, who also served as a lifelong mentor and confidante. The “Love Story” actress Ali MacGraw was another one of Mills’ decades-long friends. Still in the office five days a week, the nearly 96-year-old Halbreich said Sunday that she met Mills in his 20s, when he was at Geoffrey Beene. The pair had remained friends ever since. Halbreich said, “He danced. He was my dancing in his head. He was extremely smart with an intense power of recall. He never forgot anybody’s name or where they were [in business] no matter where he was. He was a very unique and intelligent man, who should have done much more,” she said.
What she loved about Mills was him always being so on top of things. “We didn’t always talk about fashion because I get very bored with it. What I loved about him was that he was very current and very caring,” she said. “He was always inquisitive about what was going on, but not in an intrusive way. He wanted to know what was going on downtown and what was going on in the store. He was full of life and was not an angry human being.”
For nearly two decades prior to the pandemic setting in, Mills ran Greg Mills Ltd., a design consultancy and showroom that specialized in ready-to-wear, accessories and footwear. Kind, respectful and funny, Mills always thought of others first, his sister said. Mills was a familiar face at the Who’s Next trade show, representing such brands as Tomas Maier, Brandon Sun, Derek Lam, Jed, Cesare Gatti and Lola Hats. A habitual 12-hour-a-day worker, he could always be found in his SoHo office during that time. As for whether Mills had any hobbies that he enjoyed during his free time, DeLucca said with a laugh, “No, he was always working — always working.”
One semi-exception was Mills’ decision in the ’80s to buy and run a Great Barrington, Mass., Italian restaurant with his late partner, chef Robert Vehlow (who prior to that worked at Anne Klein). Mills also once owned a house and other property in the woodsy Berkshires, and relished retreating there with his partner and dogs to catch a break from the fashion industry.
A private family tribute was held Saturday for Mills, who had been cremated. While dealing with some health issues, Mills retired from his company during the pandemic shutdown and had moved to New Jersey to spend more time with his family. “He loved his family, he loved his work and he loved his friends. But most of all, he really respected the fashion industry and really did well in it,” DeLucca said.
Born in Queens, Mills’ father worked as a lithographer and the family of five grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J. At 18, Mills moved to New York City to quench his fashion interests by taking some art and design college classes. He started his career with the former mass merchandise retailer W.T. Grant and then moved on to Geoffrey Beene. From 1973 to 1979, he acted as international sales manager at Anne Klein & Co. He then served as vice president of sales and retail advertising, a newly created post, for Perry Ellis Collection. During that stretch in his career, Mills became friends with Mizrahi. After Perry Ellis, Mills worked for three years for Sprouse in what was Andy Warhol’s former studio known as “The Factory.” In 1991, Mills exited Mizrahi’s company, having been there since its inception in 1987. Upon his departure, Mills said, “Things are getting really good at Isaac, and people would say it’s a strange time to leave. I feel good about what happened there.”
He later joined Mizrahi when the designer started his own signature label in the late ’80s. Mills also consulted with Badgley Mischka in the early ’90s, right after Escada had purchased the company. Mark Badlgey spoke of how essential Mills was when he and James Mischka were starting out. Aside from his experience and fresh perspective, Mills was “brilliant about product” and “most of all, had the most hilarious personality,” the designer said. Inclined to play practical jokes on people in the showroom, Mills was “super fun to work with, but all business when he needed to be,” the designer said.
“He always made the process fun. He engaged salespeople. He had incredible passion about the clothes. It could be literally a wool chemise, and he would lose his marbles about it,” Badgley said. “He was a real asset to the industry. Then he went on to have his own multidesigner showroom. He kind of did it all. He was a hard worker but he always managed to make it fun. As we know, the business is not always as easy as fun today.”
Having met Mills during the Perry Ellis years, when Ellis was still alive, designer Jeffrey Banks described Mills as, “incredibly knowledgeable about fashion with a great sense of humor that worked well in the showroom. That slightly acerbic, but not sarcastic demeanor was just fantastic to stores and customers. They loved it. When it came to any discussion about the clothing he was selling to you, he was a total straight shooter. But you would also be entertained. People loved to come to his showroom.”
Kleinfeld Bridal cofounder Mara Urshel said her friendship with Mills dated back to his stint at Anne Klein in the late ’70s, when she was a Saks Fifth Avenue buyer. “He was such a sincere wonderful person. He would do anything to help you in the business,” she said. “It’s a loss for the industry. There are not that many people who are passionate about what they do and are really sincere. It’s not all about business and money. It’s also about trying to be helpful. Greg wanted to see you succeed and he succeed. That’s a very special trait.”
Noting how Mills loved the charm of the Berkshires and the bustle of his restaurant, Urshel recalled a storybook visit that consisted of cross-country skiing and catching the annual re-enactment of Norman Rockwell’s famous holiday scene on Stockbridge’s Main Street, complete with vintage cars.
Another longtime friend of Mills, Patti Cappalli Taylor hired him to run the sportswear division that she had started for the then Warnaco-owned Jerry Silverman label in the ’70s. When she later moved on to California, he moved on. “Greg was amazing. I did my first runway show at that company, and I couldn’t have done it at all if it weren’t for Greg. He was multtalented. And I don’t use this word lightly, but he was beloved in the industry. He was very fun and personable with a dry sense of humor,” she said.
Mills’ former assistant for the past 11 years, Misaki Mizuno, started out as an intern. “He was very good at communicating with people. I am not from the United States. I got to know him, when I was very new to New York. My English was not so strong either. But I learned so many things from him — of course about the business and my career, but also how to interact with people. If I didn’t meet him, I wouldn’t have stayed in New York for such a long time. He was like my dad in the States. I don’t have any family here. He really took good care of me.”
Predeceased by his parents and a brother John, Mills is survived by DeLucca and another sister, Dawn Landau.
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