I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon Milou Neelen’s artwork for her brand Hôtel Magique. It struck me with its graphic elements and bold use of color. I’m fond of her unique mixture of script and type, plus we’re both believers in the power of creative magic. Milou has worked with amazing brands like Sézane and Anthropologie, always pushing herself to try new styles and products. What strikes me most about Milou is her perseverance. Her mother suffered from mental illness and committed suicide, and Milou channeled her experience and grief into her art. She lives life to its fullest and hopes that her work is a reflection of her growth and passion. I’m honored to have Milou share more about her background, her creative process, and her big dream of one day opening a hotel.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I started painting after studying graphic design and fashion styling. On my 25th birthday, I received a phone call from ELLE magazine asking if it could use one of my paintings as an illustration with one of the articles. After this publication, I received more illustration assignments from ELLE, Glamour, and L’Officiel. I did these assignments while working at my first full-time job as a prints and patterns designer at Scotch & Soda, which I loved since it combined both fashion and graphic design. After three years, I left Scotch & Soda and started freelancing full-time. The dream of starting my own business or brand started growing, but I couldn’t think of the perfect name since I didn’t want to use my own name—I wanted it to be about the work and not about me.
What inspired you to start Hôtel Magique, and why did you choose that name?
During an inspiration trip in Portland and San Francisco, I found some amazing golden Japanese paper I took home to create a painting for my living room. I wanted to bring a hotel vibe into my tiny Amsterdam apartment and started combining the word ‘hotel’ with other words. The combination Hôtel Magique became a winner with the painting saying ‘Hôtel Magique, open crazy late.’ With the words, magique quotes came to mind like ‘You are Magique’ and ‘Never underestimate the power of Magique,’ which I felt could be great on postcards and art prints. Hôtel Magique was born.
My aunt telling me to not dream made me want to fulfill my dreams even more and prove her wrong; follow your heart and you can make your dreams come true, no matter how small or how big they are.
I’m all about creative magic. What inspires you and propels you to make magic?
The first person who ordered online from the U.S. actually brought along some cards with her to the first Women’s March in New York. My heart exploded when I saw that, and this was the first time I noticed the impact these magique quotes can have, which has been so inspiring to create more magique!
You have experienced loss and channeled it into your work. Can you tell us about this experience and why it’s important for you to share?
My mother committed suicide after years of dealing with manic depression. She tried to hide it from me, my sister and everyone close to her, but I could always feel it. It’s a very difficult disease since it’s not visible, but besides it being terrible for her, it also was for everyone at home. It is still a difficult thing to talk about since it is so hard to understand, but I want everyone who is struggling with a parent or a friend or someone close to you who is going through this to know you will be OK. Even though it is horrible to not be able to help the way you want or lift up their spirit, whatever the outcome will be, you will be OK. Also, talk about it. I didn’t understand why she acted the way she sometimes did and why she said the things she could say. But by talking about it and understanding it tiny bits more and more and knowing I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I could deal better with the situation. I couldn’t change or help her, but at least I could keep myself on the right track by talking about it. Seeing my mother struggle and being scared for so many things and situations made me want to do the opposite and live my life to the fullest, something she never could give herself.
Why is it so important to follow your heart?
I can’t think of any other way to live. One of my aunts once told me I should not dream as big as I did. And even though I can see she was (in a very unpractical way) trying to prepare me for disappointments (the way she lived threw a lot of disappointments), I would say to everyone: dream your heart out and be prepared to work for them. Take scary things as challenges that you can overcome and learn from, and trust in the process. My aunt told me not to dream made me want to fulfill my dreams even more and prove her wrong; follow your heart and you can make your dreams come true, no matter how small or how big they are (unless you are dreaming of living in space or becoming a bird, in which case, I would suggest going for a more doable dream).
You’re great at challenging yourself to try new things. Why is this important to creativity and how can people push through that fear of the unknown?
Even though I love a lot of artists with a very specific style and technique and how they really explore that one style to the fullest, it is not for me. I need that challenge to push myself to create something new, something I didn’t know I could and then take it to the next level to make sure it suits Hôtel Magique. This is also one of the reasons why I love working on collaborations. For me, new work for a collaboration works out best when you can see both brands are incorporated and focused on creating something new, something unexpected. Besides that, my work has been copied already a bunch of times, which feels horrible but also makes me push myself into creating new work. I know it is scary to try out new things since you will most definitely suck at it in the beginning and it will most likely not be how you had it in mind when you got started, but just keep exploring and trying. The excitement you feel from really creating something new is for me personally so much more magique than creating something new in a style I already got the hang of.
What’s something new you want to try next?
I will be working with a photographer I adore to create magique together. The challenge lies in the fact that I personally don’t like any extras to photography. For me, an amazing photo is just the photo and nothing extra, but challenge accepted! A way bigger challenge, my dream of opening a hotel is growing by the day. I’m reading a lot from people who opened hotels without a hospitality background and just getting a lot of information in. With everything, I’m trusting the universe to drop me a hint when it’s time and never rush into anything. Maybe I will get started next year or maybe in 10 years, both are fine. But that would definitely be a dream come true!
I know it is scary to try out new things since you will most definitely suck at it in the beginning and it will most likely not be how you had it in mind when you got started, but just keep exploring and trying. The excitement you feel of really creating something new is for me personally so much more magique than creating something new in a style I already got the hang of.
Have you ever felt like a failure? If so, how did you get past it?
Every time I create a new print series for Hôtel Magique, I go through a major “failure/I lost the magique” period. And every time, I forgot the last times I went through this same feeling before. I try tons of different things for prints and nothing seems perfect or feels right. Once I totally hit the creative rock bottom, I let go for a few days, maybe even two weeks before going back and looking at all the parts I actually like and get back on the horse. I sometimes maybe create up to 100 prints and pick out the best ones when I know I should just stop and see them printed. Once I made a final selection, I do not allow myself to continue. This is it and now be happy and proud of what you created.
How can new artists get their work seen?
Since I started painting before Instagram and Pinterest even existed, it’s probably way different now, but I started with hanging my work at a restaurant I was working at. This actually led me to my first exhibition. Start out with just showing your work to anybody you feel comfortable with and don’t keep it to yourself. Receive their comments not as personal, but as something that helps you to see your work through different eyes. Every time you show it to someone or somewhere, the next time will be less scary and more exciting.
I am a slow reader and get easily distracted when reading a book, so I’m not much of a reader. But at the moment, I would say The Monocle Guide to Hotels, Inns and Hideaways, which is very practical and exciting to read when you are dreaming of opening a hotel one day.
Song that inspires you?
Ironic by Alanis Morissette. Actually, not the song and sound of it, but the lyrics definitely made an impact. For music that gets me into that creative groove, I go to Soundcloud for all playlists by Soulection and Dave Croqett, who is next to one of my favorite DJs (he’s also my boyfriend).
‘Creativity takes courage,’ which is so true, so cheers to you all taking the courage to create your own magique.
Listen to Milou’s amazing playlist for creative inspiration: