This is for a friend. For a very old friend who, during my early career, was like a big brother to me. We'd lost touch, but since he was the sort of friend you could catch up with after a decade and feel as if time had not elapsed, I thought nothing of it. But then Greg passed away last week. He had cancer and was dealing with it in his own, private way. I did not know.
The last time I saw him was for a brief moment in Victoria Station a few years back. He was having a go at living in London, and I was traveling back to Amsterdam with my boy child in tow. We were both rushing off in opposite directions but felt the need to stop, embrace each other, and catch up quickly. We talked about his plans for the Millhouse menswear label, about our kids, our partners, old friends and compatriots we hadn't seen in ages, about the latest Trinidad bacchanal, about how wet and drab London could be, about how promising London could be.
The city was presenting its own unique challenges for a Caribbean designer trying to break into the tight ranks of British tailoring, but Greg was fighting the good fight in his trademark, sophisticated manner. Even in the dreary London space, with its crush of everybody trying to do everything, he stood apart and stood tall. There was no doubt in my mind that everything was going to work out for him.
He had a way of seeming both relaxed and focused at the same time, and would outfit himself with an equal measure of casual precision: well-cut slacks, immaculate cotton shirting, a waistcoat, leather shoes, proper socks, the whole deal. He dashing and dark, and he used to sport the boldest set of thick dreadlocs piled high atop his head. In the 90s, the storefront for his now-iconic Millhouse label was located around the corner from my Taxi Stand, and he would stand in the doorway making teasing remarks on my style as I passed each day.
He'd say things like, "But how that jacket big so, gyul? Like yuh borrow it from yuh fadder?" Or he'd flash his wide grin and howl, "Come chile, lemme iron that shirt properly for yuh - de ting rumple rumple like yuh now roll out of bed!" I'd retort with a jab at his own 'washed linen' flare pants that was just a shade too short, or comment on his dangerously pointed kick-and-stab shoes. That was the extent of our cantankerous exchanges for years before we both ended up working on Tragarete road.
I was hosting a radio show at the time, and he had just opened a new Millhouse boutique close to the station; most of the guys who worked there got their garments done by Gregory. His suits were pricey, but worth it. In time, an entire generation of Trinidadians learned how to dress themselves with pride inside his boutique, and yet, he had no airs, no pretense about his craft. He was clearly ambitious, but was always real, and honest. He'd talk with the same earnestness about his highs, as he would his lows.
After my shift, I'd walk over to the boutique and we'd ole talk for hours as a steady stream of local cognoscenti filtered through his doors right alongside the everyday folk. We'd laugh, have a drink, and we'd scheme about our plans. We'd bounce up in parties at Anchorage and gossip about everything. And the conversations would inevitably turn to design. His aesthetic was superbly refined; his technical skill was unparalleled; and his suits were impeccable. If you meant business, you wore Millhouse. Simple.
I am not sure if Trinidad always knew what to do with someone like Gregory, but it didn't matter. He kept at his craft with such mastery, and we all marveled at it. Millhouse made us want to present our best selves, everyday. In him, we saw ourselves as we were - beautiful, talented Afro-Caribbean people with flair and class. And we are better off for it.
Travel well, Gregory. You will be missed.
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