Moving on: fashion designer Karen Millen
Fashion guru Karen Millen is working hard to rebuild her finances after losing her £40million fortune from the sale of her bankrupt business.
The 61-year-old tells Donna Ferguson how in 2017, after years of court battles and financial bad luck, she lost all her wealth and her family home.
He has three adult children and now rents a cottage in Kent. Her latest collection, The Founder at Karen Millen, was released in May.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Work hard for it. I am one of four children and grew up in a working class home where money was quite tight. My mother was a secretary in the civil service and my father was a technician who laid floors and carpets.
While I respected their hard work, I knew I wanted something better. We lived in a council house in Maidstone, Kent, and it was a struggle at times. We didn’t have luxuries, it was about putting food on the table.
My father had to retire young due to health problems and became very sick while I was growing up. I remember feeling this hunger to be independent. From the age of 14, I did paper rounds, egg rounds and fruit picking, anything to get a little pocket money.
Was there a time in your life when you were paid a silly amount?
Some would say I was paid a silly amount when I sold my company in 2004, but that was the price offered at the time. I got around £40 million-odd for me and my ex. [Kevin Stanford] and business partner, got the same.
It felt like a crazy amount. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would ever achieve such success and that type of wealth.
Of course, it felt amazing. But it came at a time when, personally, things were quite difficult. My relationship with Kevin had come to an end, my career had come to an end, and selling my business was like giving away my baby. I wanted to celebrate, but deep down it hurt and I felt very sad. I no longer had anything to get up and do, nor anything to work for. I woke up and thought: What now?
How did it feel to have £40m in the bank?
My world had changed a lot (almost overnight) and I was quite exhausted, as well as emotionally and creatively drained. I’m sure I celebrated it, but I had this feeling of how can I deal with having all this money suddenly?
I was never good with money; I had always trusted my partner to handle that side of things. I was a bit naive about everything, despite being in my early 40s, and I felt quite alone. Looking back, I was probably too scared to ask for advice. People see that you are so successful that you know everything and you are actually too afraid to say I don’t know. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do or what I should be like now. So it was a very difficult time in many ways.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Not taking my wealth into my own hands. I trusted other people who I felt were better qualified to handle it. I didn’t get the right advice. Whether it was investments, putting money in offshore accounts, whatever, I wish I had looked into it a little more and taken more responsibility. All those decisions have cost me. From the time of the 2008 financial crisis, there were problems trying to preserve everything. My time was taken up by negativity, battles and lawyers.
When I think about the money I spent on legal fees! It was a hole that seemed to get bigger. And it gave me little time to feel good about myself until I was able to leave it all behind.
I went bankrupt in 2017. Deciding to stay put and let it happen to me was the only way to move forward. I never really added up everything I lost. But I can say that I lost everything I received from selling my business. I ended up with nothing except my pension, and that has been my saving grace.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
As things went wrong for me, if it hadn’t been for my partner Ben, I would have found it very difficult to make ends meet. But, fortunately, he has been there to support me and put a roof over my head.
Adjusting was not only difficult for me but also for my three children. Luckily, they had already left school by then, but we lost the family home and, unlike me, my children grew up without knowing any other lifestyle.
We had a beautiful vacation and had all the trappings that wealth brings. You get used to luxuries. He occasionally traveled on private jets and drove very nice cars. Fortunately, my children were brave and very supportive. We have come through it stronger.
Tie-in: Karen Millen sold the retail chain that still bears her name in 2004, but now has a new collection called The Founder.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
A Porsche Carrera GT, shortly after we sold the company. I paid around £250,000 and was told it would increase in value. I hated that car, which was left-hand drive. I’m short and couldn’t reach the pedals without sitting on a cushion. I sold it after a couple of months. I’m told it would now be worth £1.5m.
Best money decision you’ve ever made?
Resolving to move forward with a clean slate. There is nothing I can do to change the past. I have to look to the future and learn from my past mistakes.
It took me a while to pick up the pieces but I got up, dusted myself off and I’m going again. Now I believe that my wealth is in what I can create and do. So I’m doing a collection with my old company, Karen Millen, which launched earlier this year, called The Founder. By doing that, I feel energized. I’m doing something I love, but I don’t have the headache of running the company.
Do you save for a pension?
Not anymore, since I’m almost 62 years old. Pensions are excluded from the estate of a bankrupt person. Mine isn’t huge, but it’s been a blessing. I have taken part as a tax-free lump sum.
I remember thinking, when I was saving, that it was irrelevant. Now I’m happy I did it. I look at the state pension and think: how do people get by on that? It is very important to have a private pension. I wish I had put more in, in retrospect. However, I’m fit and healthy so I’d like to think I can work for at least another ten years.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No, I do not understand. When I had money to invest, other people did it for me. And I didn’t have great experiences.
Are you a property owner?
No. I have been renting a cottage in a small village in Kent for the last five years. I found it difficult to get a mortgage because I am a bankrupt elderly woman and my partner lives abroad. I see renting as a complete waste of money. Coming from a big house was a challenge and for a long time I lived without boxes. After a while, I realized that I didn’t need half of what I had. I would like to buy a house again. A house, for me, is one of the most important things to have and enjoy.
- Karen Millen is co-founder of Teens Unite, a charity supporting teenagers and young adults aged up to 24 on their cancer journey. Visit Teensunite.org/ to donate.
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