Rockabilly pinned up in Montague Gardens

Athina May

Mandy Milne is the epitome of a 1950s pin-up girl, but with enough vintage Bettie Page chic and Alice in Wonderland frosting to make anyone who visits her Montague Gardens mini-factory feel like they’ve slipped down a rabbit hole.

Mandy is the owner of Miss Happ clothing which transports fashion back to a time where big curls, big skirts and hip-hugging dresses were plastered on every poster.

Tilting her head and flashing her polar-white teeth and fire-engine lips, Mandy embraces me in her office, which is a whirl of colour. In her navy-blue cardigan with white collar and bow detail, and cherries dangling from her ears, beneath a creme-soda-tinted Bettie Page cut, Mandy looks sugary sweet, as most pin-up girls do, but her tattoos reveal she is not sugar without the spice.

Mandy created Miss Happ as a one-woman show and did everything from design, creation as well as working as her own PR social media person, to get her brand known.

Nine years later, and Miss Happ has started a culture of its own and is sold at stores in Long Street, Cape Town, Johannesburg as well as to an international audience on the online store, Etsy. Her Montague Gardens office has two seamstresses, a cutter and makes use of candy-coloured fabrics, which are sourced locally and internationally.

“When I started the brand nine years ago, no one was doing it. So I didn’t really know who I was selling to. I was doing it because I loved the culture and the era, but the scene is growing, and I am a part of it,” says Mandy, 41, who has graced the pages of magazines such as Pinups & Hotrods and Dames, Planes and Automobiles.

She has taken many of her customers under her wings to show them how to live the pin-up, rockabilly lifestyle, which can be time- consuming for a modern girl to keep up with.

“This is high maintenance; I take longer than most to get ready every day. I take about an hour if I sleep with curlers,” laughs Mandy.

The rockabilly lifestyle is inspired by Rosie the Riveter, an iconic figure who represents American women who worked in factories during World War II, producing ammunitions and war supplies.

“She represents strong woman and women’s rights and she is an icon in the culture. I associate with the whole culture. It is everything I love,” says Mandy.

Mandy left her previous job to pursue her passion for vintage fashion. “I had an awesome position, but I was tired of designing something I wouldn’t wear everyday, something that didn’t inspire me. The gratification wasn’t there for me, now I am able to express myself with 100 percent comfort with who I am,” says Mandy fluttering her cat-lined lids.

Mandy’s biggest fan is her husband Murray who works with her, and has his very own pin-up girl pinned on the walls of his office.

“I have been working with my husband for nine years. We cope well together; we’re a team. I always tell him, how boring would it be if I were a normal girl,” chuckles Mandy.

When not designing, she transforms into Mandy M, the pin-up girl, and does various pin-up shoots outdoors or in her own studio at her store on Long Street, Cape Town.

“My life is split in half with work and pin-up.

“When I got behind local girls to promote pin-up, I forgot about myself. My work is my life, so everything went into it, and I lost me along the way. I wanted to get into it again. “I might take up a stage name. I have been published internationally and locally. I’ve been in three publications in one month,” says Mandy, blushing.

Although her life might sound like all cherries and pie, Mandy has put in the work to get her business established and create a name for herself, and now she finally gets to enjoy the fruits of her labour.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and tears. Running your own business is not for sissies. You see all the icing and cherries, but the cake underneath is hard work. When we start production on Monday, by Friday it will be in store. We produce items within a week.”

Mandy is busy updating her range, which she describes as vintage-inspired clothing for the modern girl, by creating cardigans and scarves to ensure the range is versatile this winter.

“In winter, it’s all about layering. Long-sleeve dresses don’t always work with the style. So, in winter I layer little embroidered cardigans with my dress and add a vintage-inspired scarf with patterned tights. Pin-up is a style that embraces all body types and all ages. It’s for someone not afraid to be seen,” says Mandy with a wink.