I’ve loved hats for as long as I can remember. I think I was born loving them. I remember playing dress up in my grandmother’s closet with high heels and hats at a very young age. I have my grandmother’s 1913 engagement photo, and I was always thoroughly intrigued with the huge chapeau she wore in her sepia toned likeness. Easter bonnets were a must in my family. Hats were a requirement for shopping excursions as well, especially with my relatives in the New Orleans French Quarter.
It was quite accidental that I became a milliner. My dear friend and mentor, the late Cynthia White of Lady Cynthia Millinery, called one afternoon and told me she was dying. Cindy asked me to promise her one thing: to open my own millinery studio and to begin making hats as soon as possible. When I told her I’d never made a hat in my life, she replied “I don’t know another person who loves hats as much as YOU and I know you will be fantastic! You have the knowledge inside… just tap into it and let it release.” That was our last conversation as she died one month later. I began LaVictorianRose Millinery in Cynthia’s honor in 2005. We never met in this lifetime. I found Cindy in 1997, while looking for a milliner to replicate the hat Rose wore in the movie “Titanic”.
Where did you learn millinery?
I’ve actually never had a formal millinery class. I have a degree in Fashion and Design from Southeastern Louisiana University. I’m not bragging, but my skill is a combination of natural ability and observing what others have done. I like to think it is a God given gift. I have an extensive library of millinery books that cover any topic imaginable. They are often sources of reference as well as the numerous hats Cynthia made for me.
How long have you been a milliner? Where else did you work?
I have been a milliner for 3 years. I’ve been a designer of various items since my early 20s. I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve dabbled in interior design (including making my own elaborate custom draperies and doing custom upholstery), consulted on interior design projects for friends and neighbors, including designing my own custom kitchen cabinets, custom designed patterns and construction of my own reproduction vintage clothing, and a host of other projects. I did work for the United States Treasury Department for 7 years after college. Now I operate LaVictorianRose Millinery from my home in downtown Port Allen, right on the mighty Mississippi River, directly across from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My millinery studio is housed in my early 1900s southern cottage.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
Inspiration comes very easily for me. My favorite periods to replicate are hats and veils from the Victorian Era, Edwardian Era, and the roaring 20s. I must confess that I am such a history aficionado that practically any historical period is a source of inspiration. Many of the early towns near me were incorporated closely to, if not during, the time Napoleon was in power and thus that style of dress is worn during historical reenactments. I have begun designs that represent my adaption of the Napoleonic Era headwear for those occasions. The other main reenactment headwear that I make are for those involving the American Civil War. I love history and am fascinated by the hats and bonnets women have worn throughout time. I agree when it is said history repeats itself. My clients are each an integral form of inspiration for me, too. I try to represent their personalities through the designs I make for them. My other forms of inspiration come from nature, purveying vintage magazines and books, looking at old post cards, reading rare, early 1900s instruction manuals and, of course, watching historical reproduction movies.
What has been your most enjoyable commission?
I so enjoy each commission that I truly do not have a personal favorite, but if I had to choose it would be my bridal commissions. I am a hopeless romantic and there is nothing more beautiful than designing a veil or hat, with tulle making an ethereal mist around the bride, as well as designing the coordinating hats for her attendants. The flower girl hats are ALWAYS particularly precious.
How would you describe your style of headwear?
My very first thought is very romantic and feminine with a vintage appeal. I try to design hats that are very wearable and comfortable, while beautiful at the same time. Since I do love vintage styles, some of my creations get extremely elaborate, especially Edwardian styles, depending on the occasion.
Who do you make hats for?
I have clients from all walks of life and from many places throughout the world. I think deep down inside all women wish to own something terribly feminine and romantic… And what is more alluring and appealing than a custom made hat? I have long consultations with each client prior to beginning her design, so that I accentuate her most flattering features. Living in the Southern United States, millinery, in general, just seems to be a natural part of our way of life.
What materials and techniques do you favor?
I love to block straw and felt velour. I just find it fun as well as relaxing. My favorite straws are parasisol, knotted sisol and sinamay. My local clients order very few felt velour hats due to our warm climate (we wear straw practically year round), but I am quite busy throughout the year with velours from clients worldwide. I love to hand form deep creases and pleats into crowns and brims. I feel like a sculptor with clay at times. For decoration I use silk fabrics of all types, beautiful ribbons, elaborate laces, patterned veiling, feathers, millinery flowers, of course, and any number of other millinery trimmings. I try to use as many vintage trims as I can firstly, because they are lovely and, secondly, because I feel like it’s my small contribution to helping keep our Earth “green”. I also hand dye my straws to custom match client’s outfits. I end up with many two and three toned hats due to my love of mixing the colors on the straw, which my clients seem to love.
Any other interests?
I have a passion for gardening. I love beautiful gardens and admire some of the intricate designs of famous gardens worldwide. I may be partial, but I think we have particularly lovely gardens here in the South. I love to bake cheesecakes and pastries. I like to make homemade bath salts with essential oils and make lavender sachets to put with each hat as well as give as gifts. I enjoy attending charity gala’s and going out with my friends and family. I am an avid reader. I hate to admit it, but I love to read romance novels! And last but not least, I adore my pets who bring me great joy. Apollo, my 18 year old seal point Himalayan kitty, and Gaston, my 3 year old brindle boxer. They make “our” home quite merry.