Inside the Cool and Kooky World of Simon Miller

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What does it take to create an It product in a world of microtrends and “-cores”? Simon Miller’s Chelsea Hansford has the secret sauce. “Being attentive,” she says over a Zoom call. “For us, it’s really important to be the first to a trend. We always try to think next, think forward, and not get too comfortable with one program or product.” The designer has been on the brink of cult releases for nearly 10 years, and fashion lovers everywhere can’t seem to get enough. From the L.A. brand’s Bonsai Bag and its Blackout Platforms to its Bubble Clogs and variety of eye-catching dresses, it seems that Simon Miller churns out one bestseller after the next. With that kind of momentum, you have a leading brand—but not one that’ll soon be forgotten. Hansford makes sure of it. Instead, she’s hosting a party and inviting you in.

chelsea hansford

Chelsea Hansford, CEO and creative director of Simon Miller.

Justin Chung

An FIT alum who spent the early years of her career at Opening Ceremony and BLK DNM, Hansford joined the Simon Miller team in 2014, when it was still operating as a men’s denim label—a far cry from what it is today—to steer its growth and launch womenswear. “I really overhauled the strategy,” she says. “We started with denim and a few ready-to-wear pieces, then decided to launch bags with the Bonsai.” And thus began Simon Miller’s streak of hits. Then, in 2016, Hansford had the opportunity to take over the company as the owner and CEO. It was at that point when she ultimately decided to veer away from jeans and focus on repositioning Simon Miller as a lifestyle brand. “I saw such a clear line of where the opportunity was,” she says. “Denim is such a tough business, and it’s not my passion nor my specialty. We kept it going for as long as we could, but what we really saw where this business was working, which was this lifestyle womenswear world,” she explains.

When such a world feels, well, otherworldly, not to mention undeniably kooky—what with its bold platform clogs, its embellished, eye-catching accessories, or its geometric-inspired crochet dresses—one can’t help but want to be a part of it. Hansford describes the Simon Miller universe and the lifestyle it embodies as a “playful world of luxury,” and spends much of her time finding the sweet spot between the two opposite sides of the spectrum. The designer lets her personal style and tastes influence her designs, which draw inspiration from architecture, color, and travel, but the daily challenge comes in combining those inspirations to hit precisely the right chord. She mentions that she thinks of her approach as a seesaw. “It can’t be too playful or it can get too young or kitschy. It can’t be too luxurious because it can get generic, boring, or a bit too serious,” she says. “That balance is where we strike gold.”

simonmiller beep beep dress

Courtesy of SIMONMILLER

Of course, in an era in fashion when “quiet luxury” is the aesthetic du jour, I wonder how a brand focused on quirky boldness stands up next to the stark minimalism shoppers are discussing—and coveting—today. “I think people are looking for entertainment in the cloud of information they’re getting all the time, so we’re reaching our customers through campaigns, videos, and, honestly, color,” Hansford offers. “Color is a huge point for us; people identify colors as Simon Miller colors when they see the product. With our graphics and art direction, we keep it fun and exciting.”

It’s not hard to imagine the type of woman who might procure these pieces—but just in case you weren’t sure, it’s the working creative, according to Hansford. This shopper, the designer explains, is expressive and bold—and also on the move. She goes on to share that she takes risks with her sartorial choices while prioritizing wearability, hence the comfortable knit dresses, pull-on pants, and chunky platforms. In terms of celebrities, Jennifer Lawrence, Bella Hadid, and Vanessa Hudgens are known fans.

And while Hansford strives for fun, attainable luxury, the brand has become even more accessible thanks to its recent collaboration with Mango. “I didn’t have to think very hard about it,” she says of her decision to work with the Spanish retailer. “When you’re considering a collaboration, you have to understand what the brand will bring to the collection that’ll make it stand out. It’s really important to me that there’s a distinct point of view,” she explains. “For me, the DNA was all there. I love the brand’s community and who it’s speaking to—that’s always been such an important part of brand building. I also love how it’s an attainable brand that operates with a luxury lens, putting quality first.”

simonmiller x mango collaboration

A look from the SIMONMILLER x Mango collaboration.

Courtesy of SIMONMILLER

simonmiller x mango collaboration

A look from the SIMONMILLER x Mango collaboration

Courtesy of SIMONMILLER

Throughout our conversation, it’s clear that Hansford takes a thoughtful, strategic approach to her work—and not just with the clothes she designs. Though she attributes her knack for brand building to her previous roles, it’s the holistic way she invites customers into her orbit, which includes her taste for interior design, that reinforces Simon Miller as not just a clothing brand, but a way of life.

“When I started putting an emphasis on interiors, it made the whole world come together, and I think it made everyone understand who we are,” she tells me. In other words, homewares completed the picture. When I ask her who the Simon Miller woman is, Hansford says she’s someone who fits into a world of color, with clothes that pop within that world. And if you haven’t gotten sucked in just yet, be prepared; this is a place you definitely want to be a part of. Fair warning: you might stay a while.

Headshot of Dale Arden Chong

Dale Arden Chong

Dale Arden Chong is the Senior Fashion Commerce Editor at ELLE.com. Previously, she was an editor at MensHealth.com and has written for Who What Wear, GLAMOUR, The Coveteur, and more. She loves fashion, food, and art, among other things—but her greatest love is K-pop idol V of BTS. 

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