How did you become interested in millinery?
I’ve been fond of hats since I was a child… I remember going to department stores with my mother and my aunt, and always checking the directories for toys and millinery. When as a teenager I got my first paycheck for dancing in the “Nutcracker”, I headed over to the French Room at Marshall Field’s and bought myself beautiful little indigo blue crushed velvet hat with small curled feathers all around the crown. My friends thought I was crazy since hats were totally out of style at the time, at least for teenagers. My mother has a similar story of taking the first money she made in her hometown in Estonia and purchasing a hat for herself, so perhaps it’s genetic!
Where and why did you learn millinery?
In New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology millinery certificate program from Ann Albrizio and the other marvelous instructors there including who trained at Balenciaga in Paris and shared her expertise with those lucky enough to get into her couture millinery courses at FIT.
How long have you been a milliner for? Where else did you work?
I’ve been a milliner for 15 years, counting some of the years I was in school because almost immediately people began stopping me on the streets of New York to buy the hats off my head! I had a very brief experience working for Suzanne in NYC, which was wonderful, but I’d already decided to return to Chicago before that, so the timing was off. My other work experience has mainly been in ballet and other dance companies. I was also a personal trainer for the years after I switched from ballet to modern dance and while I was at FIT, which worked out very well since some of my clients became my first hat customers.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
I occasionally get inspiration from fashion sources and historic hats, but more often from nature, music, art, travel, and pretty much everything else around me. I get asked this question often. For me the problem is never finding inspiration or ideas, but rather finding the time to make all the hats I’d like.
What has been your most enjoyable commission?
It’s hard to think of just one, but I’d say any customer who has some opinions of what she’d like, but is still very open to experimentation. The best is just having an idea, making it, and then having someone fall in love and purchase it. I also enjoy vicarious travel through my hats… to places I’ve never been, like the Academy Awards, where a hat of mine went this year, or to places I’ve been and adore like Royal Ascot.
How would you describe your style of hats?
Elegant, artistic and finely crafted, with a sense of movement and a dash of humor.
Who do you make hats for? That is, church goers? Brides? Everyday winter wear?
All of the above.
What materials and techniques do you favor?
I’m fond of blocking felt, leather and straw. There’s something magical about creating a shape without seams. But I also enjoy creating patterns, tooling leather, knitting wire, and working with thermoplastics, feathers and vintage veiling. I like creating my own shapes for blocking through carving and making “sparterie” frames. Gallery venues work well for me since they encourage me to be more adventuresome with shapes and materials.
Any other interests?
I love skiing in Colorado, and used to read French literature and knit for fun, but don’t have much leisure time now. I enjoy teaching my millinery courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and find that old statement of learning from students to be true. I wish there were more hours in the day… to learn another language, to learn to weave on my mother’s floor loom, to start knitting again, to travel more, and to make more hats!