In 2012, Mills opened Maud Boutique, named for Maud Amelia Josephine Johnson Larson, the grandmother whose closet inspired so many hours of childhood enchantment.
The shop, located near 33rd and California, carries vintage fashions and accessories plus a selection of new pieces almost exclusively from small, independent labels. The boutique also has an Etsy site. It’s a family affair, with Mills’ teen daughters and husband pitching in with various aspects of the day-to-day operations at the space located only blocks away from the family home in their beloved Gifford Park neighborhood.
The century-old building itself is well-suited to the distinctive boutique, with period architecture, beautiful wood floors, and ample natural light. And like many of the fashions it houses, it has an interesting history, says Mills.
“In the early ‘20s, it was a beauty school (California Beauty School) owned by Kathryn Wilson, an African-American,” Mills explains. “She wrote a beauty school textbook called The Successful Hairdresser. I like that the building is still in keeping with the feel and the vibe and the history of the space: a woman business owner featuring items that are unique and geared toward beauty and fashion.”
Maud Boutique’s vintage clothes are meant to be worn rather than collected, although many of them are special occasion pieces, and Mills works with a tailor to make repairs and otherwise restore pieces to their original beauty.
“I see myself as a curator,” says Mills, who is also more likely to refer to herself as a shopkeeper rather than an owner or entrepreneur. “The vintage pieces in the shop are carefully chosen, and they usually have stories behind them. They’re fixed up and cleaned and presented in a beautiful space in a beautiful way.”
Besides vintage, Mills’ boutique carries new fashions in sizes XS to 2X, both from such small local designer collections such as Fella Vaughn and Leah Casper (both featured at Omaha Fashion Week), and nationally known labels like Bernie Dexter, Pretty Birdie, Mata Trader, and Soul Carrier. Mills is also conscientious about supporting designers with fair trade and other ethical practices.
“I need to know that they were made without unfairly exploiting people or natural resources,” she explains.
Maud Boutique patrons range from college students to mature women, but her clientele shares one common characteristic, Mills says. They want something that’s one-of-a-kind.
“Most of the people are looking for dresses for events,” she says. “Or they come in just looking for that something that’s really different, really unique.”