Indigo Millar: I Want to be a Mermaid
Born and raised in Missoula, Montana to a performance artist mother and geologist father, Indigo’s parents divorced when she was an infant. Indigo’s mother married a man named Max, whom Indigo refers to as her emotional father. Owner of vintage clothing store, “Carlo’s One Night Stand”, Max came into the marriage with two daughters, both older than Indigo. Indigo’s biological father remarried as well, and two younger brothers were born. Indigo’s grandfather worked for a company which moved him, wife and children to places like Libya, Iran, Thailand, and England. In the 70’s they moved to Rome, unknowingly setting the stage for their granddaughter’s forthcoming cultural romance. Memories of early-childhood visits hazily float, a piazza, pigeons, attempts at stealing milk from her mother’s cappuccino.
As a child, Indigo wore vintage clothing, she was inspired by her parents appreciation for unique one of a kind objects. During teenage years, Indigo reacted strongly against her parent’s eccentricities; she was shy and embarrassed, she wanted to fit in, she wanted to be normal. Though still interested in fashion, Indigo insisted on wearing brand names only. Pieces that broadcast their labels in massive bold font – Benetton, Guess, etc. A great deal of pressure was placed on Indigo to excel academically. She was absolutely expected to attend an excellent, small, east coast liberal arts college, just as her mother had. Indigo earned straight-A’s in high school, and at the age of eighteen, moved to Massachusetts to study Art History at Williams College. Indigo worked in the University costume shop, and after graduation in 1999 moved to Manhattan.
“I moved to New York with friends from University. I thought I was going to get a job at a gallery, or work for a small museum, and ended up having weird jobs, bad experiences unfortunately. I worked for a non-profit where there was this terrible hysterical woman in charge, doing temp work that was deadly boring. I think I wasn’t ready for New York, I was overwhelmed by the city, I loved it. I felt like I was in the most amazing place in the world, and I wasn’t able to take advantage. I had so much fun, but I wasn’t prepared to be aggressive enough to pursue things. I’m glad that I lived there for a while, it was amazing, I met fabulous people – I met you in New York!”
Four years in the big city went by rather aimlessly, Indigo realized that she needed a change. The tragic events of 9/11 occurred, and it was clearly time to go. Indigo no longer wanted to be in such a big place, there were too many people, there was too much to do, too much noise, too many things to choose from. Indigo packed her belongings, and returned home to Montana where she stayed for a brief yet restorative three months. After that, she came back to New York, this time knowing she would be gone within the year. in 2002, Indigo moved to Florence to study at Polimoda.
“I really wanted to study pattern making and how to construct garments. Its pretty particular, it’s not as glamorous as fashion, and there weren’t many schools that offered it. Now I think there’s a lot more, because there’s more appreciation for handmade, tailored, made to measure things. As it turns out, Italian tailors are some of the best in the world. My family lived in Rome in the 70’s, and I felt a good feeling about coming to Italy. I chose Florence rather than Milan, because Florence is smaller, and I wanted a more manageable city. I didn’t speak any Italian. I thought I would only be coming for about two years, finish school and finish my internship. My whole family was behind me, and really supportive.”
Indigo moved into a two bedroom flat in Florence’s Santo Spirito district, owned by the family of a woman named Veronica. A philosophy student from Ancona, Veronica proved instrumental in teaching Indigo the Italian language. She insisted that Indigo speak Italian only, and because of this Indigo learned quickly.
After completing the program at Polimoda, Indigo took an internship at a pattern making studio just outside of Florence. Upon her internship’s conclusion, the studio offered her a job. Indigo went back to the states for a visit, returning to Florence under the impression that she was employed. Complications over paperwork surfaced, and Indigo was never hired. She was at a loss, she began making clothes to sell independently, skirts decorated with bric-a-brac, made of colorful patterned fabric she’d purchased in New York, brought over in her suitcase. Indigo developed a group of clients, eight to ten women her age from wealthy Florentine backgrounds. “It was beautiful, making my own things, and having people buy them, being competitive. I sold directly to people, and I had somethings in stores. Clients would come over to my house, we would have tea, we would talk about fabric, I’d do fittings. One girl brought me a bunch of amazing Pucci scarves that were her mother’s, and she asked me to make tops from them.”
Indigo continues, “I was making really fancy, girly things, using a lot of vintage patterns. I was taking apart things I found in the market, or things that I found in my father’s shop in the states, and using them as patterns. I’d construct a sleeve, or some kind of pocket, and then reset those into my designs. I love looking at vintage clothing. I love buying things that are handmade. You can see the way the tailor has stitched things, you can learn so much by opening up a jacket and looking on the inside, seeing how the seems are done. The collar, if it’s been stitched to give it shape.”
Buying several consecutive return tickets back to Italy, Indigo finally accepted the fact that she was living there. “It’s a sticky place, Florence. It’s small, it has this kind of feeling, I ride my bike everywhere, I go places, I know everyone, I’ve made fabulous friends. Really, it’s easy, It’s a nice way to live.”
Currently, Indigo is obsessed with tights, inspired by the work of Florentine designer Emilio Cavallini. Planing to turn this obsession into a viable business model; Indigo has partnered with professional stylist and friend Carmel. The two will be screenprinting on tights, this is a project for which Indigo could not be more excited. “Maybe 5 years ago, I discovered that I want to wear dresses and tights all the time. We want to make thick tights, and then screen print on top of them. I’d like to fix on one thing and take it from A to Z. For me this is really important, to see it through and to get it self-sustaining and going in a good direction. It’s a little mini-project that could have big potential, rather than thinking about a line of clothing with twenty given pieces, and five different sizes, that’s too much right now. I have a friend who has a beautiful studio inside an old greenhouse in the center of Florence. She’s a screenprinter, she makes things for the house; pillow cases, table wear, interior decor. We’re going to use her studio, and hopefully her expertise.”
Indigo’s personal wardrobe is in part inspired by 1920’s and 1930’s style. Bias cut slips, long slim dresses, and 1970’s fashion excite her as well. 1980’s fashion has recently caught her interest, though perhaps one of Indigo’s most signature style moves is the use of bold patterns. She loves wearing patterns, multiple contrasting patterns simultaneously.
VS: Do you feel like you might be living in a fairy tale?
IM: “I do. I have to remind myself not to be in that peter pan kind of phase, never growing up. It’s easy to be in a little bit of a daze, and sometimes it’s hard to get back down, to get grounded. This is something that I have a problem with, I’m sometimes in the clouds a lot, but at the same time I have to work. I work as a tailor, sometimes for specific events. If there’s a film I can go and do the tailoring. This week I’m working for Hugo Boss, they’re doing a campaign for publicity using a football player here in Florence. I was there, helping with fittings, I ironed the clothes, helped dress, helped the stylists. I like doing fittings, I’ll do that for another two days. I also work with a friend of mine who’s Danish, a fabulous costume designer. We’ve been making clothes for dance competitions and performances. I really like it, it’s really silly. Everything is really stretchy and very glittery, asymmetrical with fringe, and the nude look with rhinestones. That’s seasonal, maybe for three of four moths out of the year. On Sunday mornings I make brunch at a restaurant, which I actually really like. I make cupcakes and cinnamon rolls and pancakes. Then one or two nights a week, I waitress at this fabulous Italian restaurant.”
Continuing, “I have fabulous friends in Florence, this is one of the reasons why I’ve stayed, I’ve created a beautiful family. I came to Florence, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t speak the language, and I’ve managed to create this beautiful group of people around me. They’re all totally eccentric, and crazy and artistic. There’s musicians, photographers, videographers, people involved in fashion, marketing, all kinds of things. It’s nice, this energy that comes together. You get excited about a project, but you can also involve your friends, and others get excited about it too. Everyone’s being shown off to their best advantage. An idea is so much better when you collaborate, so much better when you can talk about it with someone and it can expand.”
Perhaps Indigo’s greatest collaboration to date occurred last summer, when she married her romantic partner of eight years. Cinematographer Vassili Spiropoulos, grew up in Patra, Greece; son of a Greek father and an Italian mother. Vassili’s parents, both practicing doctors, divorced when he was young. He grew up basically not knowing his mother, and when he was 16, Vassili sought out the Italian side of his family. Like Indigo, Vassili spoke no Italian upon arrival in Florence. He was eighteen, he had come to follow in his parents footsteps by studying medicine. After about a year and a half of study, Vassili switched his focus to filmmaking, and over the past decade-plus has built a serious career. During my chat with Indigo he called, having just landed in Paris on his way back from meetings in L.A.
Vassili first appeared on Indigo’s radar, while commuting to her internship. It was early morning, Indigo had to get up and take a bus to the studio. She had to be there at 7 o’clock, a traumatic hour for her back in those days. It was winter, it was cold and dark, Indigo wore the same clothes for a week straight. She was exhausted, she just didn’t care. Vassili would sometimes be there, waiting with his girlfriend, and when the bus came he would kiss her and wave her goodbye. Indigo remembers thinking, “Who is this person? Why are they bothering me?” These tortured bus rides went on for about a month, after which Indigo saw no trace of Vassili for another year. In time, the two began running into each other randomly all over town, and started talking. in Mid-October, Vassili asked Indigo for her phone number but didn’t call for sometime. Then on Halloween, Indigo was out in the piazza late at night, dressed up like zombie Andy Warhol. She saw Vassili walk by and called to him, asking why he hadn’t phoned her. Vassili called the following day.
The two went out, to a little place called the art bar. Indigo remembers especially liking the fact that Vassili was a foreigner and an only child, just like her. The two have been together ever since, despite a few detours along the way. “Every kind of relationship is going to have difficulties, people grow in different ways. it’s really important to find someone who’s willing to work on that stuff with you. Vassili is really patient and open. He’s willing to put in time to understand what’s going on, why we’re having a hard time, and fix it. There’s a kind of depth of understanding your own emotions. There’s a super, super closeness. I really like the closeness. I really like this kind of sharing, and I really like that he’s someone whose seen me though the past eight years, going through different changes in my life, and can bring back some perspective, that constancy. It’s like having a really good friend who’s next to you all the time, who understands and sees you, and can see the arc of where you’re going better than you can, and can encourage you. Knowing someone really really well, and caring for them so deeply. We’re totally separate people, but if something good happens to Vassili it’s absolutely happening to me, it makes me so happy. There’s a disappointment that he has, it totally affects me just as much. I had never had a long relationship like this before Vassili. It’s all new, and it’s nice to go through. This relationship has given me so much.”
Indigo and Vassili were married last summer, first at Florence’s city hall, and then again in Montana at Indigo’s family’s country home. Indigo was under the impression that marriage would change very little in her relationship with Vassili. After all, they had been living together for years. The commitment they made in front of family, has added extra depth, meaning and gravity. Indigo’s wedding ring was given to her by her grandmother, she cherishes it, and feels in some ways that she is now married to her grandmother as well. Indigo and Vassili live blissfully in Florence, where they share their flat with Douglass, their female cat the neighborhood bully.
Three years ago, Indigo was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis, an auto-immune disease affecting the lining of the bladder. For one full year this went undiagnosed, and Indigo thought she was suffering chronic UTI’s. Various tests were taken, antibiotics were prescribed and nothing improved. Indigo felt awful, she basically stopped sewing for a year and a half. While visiting Montana, Indigo went to a naturopath who put her on a strict diet requiring the avoidance of acidic foods. Indigo stopped drinking alcohol, coffee, tea. She stopped eating spicy foods, chocolate, pepperoncini, tomatoes, and most fruits. “I’ve been on this diet now for two and a half years, and its totally changed my life. I’ve taken control of my body. It’s no cure, but it helps me heal. I’ve been meditating and doing a better job of listening to my body. Im drinking tons and tons of water and my skin looks pretty fantastic. This was a big moment for me, because after having felt so bad and confused about what’s going on in my body, I realized that you can heal yourself. You can change things. It’s been over a year that I’ve been feeling very good. Nothing is a limitation if you get your mind around it and decide that it’s not a limitation. Vassili is amazing, he started making all of our favorite dishes without tomatoes, spices, pepper. He’s totally revolutionized how we cook, and he eats exactly like me now. He didn’t complain, he said, Ok you can’t eat this? We won’t even have it in the house. It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to look at it. He made me feel like I can enjoy food and have beautiful things to eat.”
Heavily influenced by her Montanan upbringing, Indigo is humbled by nature’s dual creative and destructive powers. While home in August for her American wedding, Indigo encountered a backcountry wildfire which nearly destroyed her family’s home. She saw an impressive display of the northern lights, a strange quaking that they thought was lightning at first; and meteorites streaking across the sky, spitting sparks, shooting off green and orange flames. Being still, being quiet, seeing these kinds of things in nature whether beautiful or frightening, this is the very foundation of Indigo’s spiritual faith. Everything circles back to the people in her life, they are essential, her family, her parents, Vassili. Indigo loves her name. she thinks it’s an amazing, amazing name, and is thankful to her mother for giving it. She would like to name her own children after colors, Rose or Violet or Pearl.
I asked Indigo to explain why art is important, she responded by describing it as the realization of people’s thoughts, ideas and soul. Art shares what one feels, what one has in mind, and through these pieces of work, the artist’s fantasy is in front of us. Everyone is so different creatively. Everyone has incredible stories, you just have to be a little bit quiet and listen, ask the right questions – this is very important. If Indigo were to become a torch singer, she would use the name Indigo Blues, or Blue Indigo, Mood Indigo, something like that. “I would like to live on an island in Greece eventually. I’ve never had the opportunity to be a beach person. Being with Vassili and going to Greece almost every summer, its totally outrageous. I love being by the sea, I can’t get over how incredibly beautiful it is there. You arrive on a Greek Island, and it seems like its just bare rock, it seems like there’s nothing, and then you go down by the water, and it’s amazing beaches. I want to be a mermaid, I guess I’d like to end up on a Greek Island being a mermaid. “
VS: What are you wearing now?
IM: “Its a dress that I got from from my dad’s shop in Montana. Its really beautiful, it’s probably from the 1950’s, 1960’s. It’s silk made in Hong Kong. It’s called a wiggle dress because you’ve got to be shapely, it has a small waist and then wiggly hips. This is an electric teal, with chrysanthemum flowers I think. They usually have this kind of chrysanthemum, or a Chinese symbol or something, like little bamboo shoots. Its about pencil length, it comes just above my knee. It came a lot bigger and I made it smaller, and I think I made it too small in the waist, because I’m having a little bit of a hard time breathing. I can’t laugh as much as I’d like to.”
Laugh as much as she’d like to, this is a legitimate concern. May we all live out our waking dreams, drenched in imaginative romantic courageous sophisticated inquisitive beautiful laughter, precisely as Indigo has shown us.
* For further information on Interstitial Cystitis, or other related diseases, please visit the IC Network website.