In late 2010, avant-garde fashion designer Mildred Von Hildegard of Mother of London hit the headlines after her bizarre, asymmetrical leather harness jacket — something Marilyn Manson might wear while reading erotic novels on the toilet, perhaps — was ripped off by one of Willow Smith's stylists. Nine-year-old Willow — daughter of Will Smith — had no idea it was a fake when she posed on the red carpet at the American Music Awards. Nonetheless, lawyers started contacting Von Hildegard — did she want to sue the Smiths?
But Von Hildegard let it go. "All I could think about was this really pretty little girl wearing my design, with a grin on her face, and that warmed my heart," she says, sporting a vegan's complexion and a T-shirt by heavy metal band Blind Guardian.
Like Willow, Von Hildegard, who lives in a craftsman house on a hill in Chinatown, knows what it feels like to be a young fashionista with outré tastes. "In high school I had shaved eyebrows and Klingon hair, shaved way up above my hairline," she says. At age 17 she became legally emancipated from her parents in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to New York City, becoming famous on the goth scene for her insane fembot club attire. "Back then I was wearing mostly hardware," she explains. "Plastic creations, and sockets."
In 2005, while living in London, she founded Mother of London. She had never studied fashion, but the other club kids were asking her to make them outfits. "I just really felt like the 'alt' thing needed a makeover," she says. "I really wanted to bring back High Goth — big collars and ruffs, except in earth tones." She released two collections, and in 2007 moved to L.A. to launch a bona fide fashion line.
Then, in 2008, Von Hildegard's boyfriend of seven years was arrested in Dubai for suspected possession of "drugs" — melatonin pills that police thought were Ecstasy, and 0.003 grams of hashish. Von Hildegard sold everything, leveraging her whole business toward the $100,000 needed to bribe the judge, cover her boyfriend's mortgage and pay a lawyer.
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Three months after he was released, Von Hildegard and the boyfriend broke up. She found L.A. a welcoming place to start over. "People do what they want rather than what is trendy or expected," she says. "Here, I am friends with all the designers — in London it can get pretty catty."
Mother of London has been featured in countless fashion magazines and in music videos by Alice Cooper, Black Eyed Peas, Kylie Minogue and Marilyn Manson. And this fall, Von Hildegard's dream of putting Mother of London into stores will finally come true — until now, she has only made one-offs for private clients.
"It's such a good time to be an alternative designer," she says. "The mainstream has taken a shine to the dark side — designers like me definitely owe Lady Gaga a beer."