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The Measure of Mr Millhouse: Remembering Gregory Mills

I travelled to Trinidad and Tobago at the end of 2013 to spend Christmas with my family and while there, the idea to call Gregory Mills and his wife Coline Baptiste-Mills, the designers and owners of Millhouse emerged. At the time I was the editor of GCaribbean Magazine and we were approached about bringing a Caribbean menswear brand to London Collections: Men, now known as London Fashion Week Men’s. Millhouse was the perfect choice! The brand was on fire and both creative leads had completed their studies in London – Gregory trained on Savile Row and Coline completed her master’s at London College of Fashion. What I didn’t realize was that bringing Millhouse to London would be the beginning of a friendship that would blossom into kinship. A kinship that does not end as saddening news of Gregory’s passing reverberates on social media.

From the moment the phone rang, I felt a great sense of duty, having never really gotten a chance as a men’s fashion editor to work with and support a brand from my hometown. From “Hello”, Gregory’s charisma and humility permeated the conversation. His only condition and caveat – if Coline didn’t want to show in London, he wouldn’t. His fierce dedication to being a family man was to him the height of his Earthly duties and through all the years we worked together, it was clear; his unending love for his friend, partner, confidant and wife Coline, and their two sons was in total portion, his purpose.

Gregory Mills and Coline Baptiste-Mills photographed by Alex Thomas for Sagaboi.

Image: Alex Thomas

The story goes, Gregory and Coline met in San Fernando, Trinidad, the southern capital of the Soca Kingdom in 1987. Coline at the time was going to secondary school and Gregory was a slickly dressed young tailor working at a local tailoring shop. I remember Coline telling me some time ago that it was Gregory’s panache and saga boy style that grabbed her attention. Three decades later they would become a design duo known for their attention to detail, amiable rapport and passion to make their Caribbean menswear brand; Millhouse, and a Caribbean aesthetic world-renowned.

Millhouse was founded in 1997, under the name Millhouse Menswear with Gregory serving as the fashion houses’ tailor and Coline its creative director. Twenty-one years later the duo maintained this arrangement which over the past two decades saw countless collections created and showcased in the Caribbean and a few times outside. I was honoured to work with them as a stylist and consultant for a few of these. The husband and wife team built Millhouse into one of the Caribbean’s foremost and most lauded men’s fashion label, known for a penchant for organic/natural fibres, cleanly tailored apparel, colour and craft.

The accolades and achievements though did not come easy. My greatest admiration of Gregory and perhaps his Achilles heel was his forgiving nature and “God will handle them” attitude towards people and obstacles who attempted (and at times succeeded) in sidetracking Millhouse and his progress. In 2014 I witnessed first hand the limited support for fashion (in particular, men’s fashion) in Trinidad and Tobago by the powers that be, the infighting amongst designers for available resources, sheer favouritism and cronyism, misdirected public policy and irrelevant government programmes. All serving as pressure and obstacles to a dream birthed decades earlier by the duo. This for years has stymied major progress for Millhouse, and many other brands, and unfortunately still continues. It saddens me to even pen these words but a culture where no one voices the issues propels an environment where problems persist and progress is pre-empted. However, up to our last conversation, none of this defeated Gregory’s enduring faith. He was an eternal optimist.

Gregory Mills photographed by Michael Mapp for Sagaboi.

Image: Michael Mapp

In 2015 to relaunch Millhouse in Trinidad, the team organized what will go down in history as “Millhouse on the Hill”. It might be poetic but the climb of that hill was a burden that almost took the wind out of their sails… but failed to do so. Entitled “Made to Measure” it was an affair held at famed cricketer, Brian Lara’s house, in the hills overlooking Port of Spain that cost them blood, sweat and tears to occasion. Looking back, the launch was also made to measure the man that Gregory was. Amidst mounting obstacles his faith that humble people with heart and soul can hatch humongous triumphs, and candidly, his friendliness and unmatched humility produced a miracle that fixed everything. His tenacity and resilience made possible a December night in 2015 where the fashion crowd gathered and toasted him, his wife and their first child, Millhouse.

“Not so, like this!”, “Keep your head up, boss.”, “Gi dem!” I would hear him tell so many that came to him for advice, mentorship and training. Gregory’s door was always open to those seeking an ear, words of encouragement, or help. He prided himself on sharing his gifts – tailoring being only a small tranche. As for his biggest pet peeve, it was an ill-fitting suit. Upon noticing someone not looking their best, a slight grimace would unveil his ire and precede his approach to offer his helping hand. He mentored many young men and was somewhat of an armour maker for the mature. Every man that had a suit made by Gregory can attest to a feeling of being readied for battle, irrespective of what the fight was. He clothed men not just with suiting but with an ease of mind manufactured by his uncanny ability to converse. His willingness to give of himself produced many friends who never resisted the desire to rally with him.

Here ends Gregory’s chapter but not his legacy. It is undeniable that his essence touched everyone who was blessed to encounter him. It was a great privilege to have worked with Gregory (and Coline) at Millhouse and a gift to have had many laughs for many days. The world has incalculably lost one of the Caribbean’s most talented fashion designers and tailors. A family has lost its pillar and many friends have lost their shoulder. Gregory Mills was a true legend who leaves a lasting legacy as one of the nicest people whose gigantic smile, happy spirit and enduring faith lifted us all. A Sagaboi from San Fernando who dared to dream – Gregory was a man of valour. If there was ever a measure of a good man, Gregory stands amongst the great. I loved and admired him greatly and will miss terribly his laugh, his energy and his humility. My thoughts and prayers go out to his beloved wife Coline, his sons Khamisi and Thierry and all of us who knew the gentle giant I called Mr Millhouse.

 

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