Marilena Romeo
Marilena RomeoMilliner
How did you become interested in millinery?

I was working on St Kilda Road, Melbourne, and on the way back from work one evening I caught a tram. It was full of people and in the corner of my eye I saw a gorgeous senior citizen sitting proudly on her seat styled in wonderful attire that made everyone stop and stare. She had a lovely dress with an overcoat, shoes matching her bag, and gloves matching her hat! She left such an impression on me that she looked like she came out from the classic movies! During this time I was organizing my wedding and I went to see a milliner. As soon as I entered in her studio I was so overcome by her designs and colours that I quickly whispered to my best friend, “This is what I’m going to do!” To which she replied, “I have no doubt you will!”

Where and why did you learn millinery?

I took a course many years ago, with Peter Jago in 1992, and simply fell in love with the craft. I just could not get enough of learning different techniques and then I met the wonderful Mary Lock and Michele Cameron who I have been very fortunate to learn from for many years. I have also been educated by other accomplished milliners along the way. I then completed my full Certificate IV course at Kangan Batman College in Melbourne.

How long have you been a milliner for? Where else did you work? Who do you make hats for?

I have been a milliner since 1993 and I was the first milliner who sold hats at the Southgate Market when it first opened. I did quite well there and met many people in the art and craft industries. I then started to create hats in my workroom for race goers and brides.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

If you ask this question to a musician or songwriter, they would say from life experience, and I am going to say the same. I love to watch people and objects from a different perspective and always thinking about how I can incorporate the experience and manifest it into design. All my hats have a story behind it! My spider hat called “an arachnophobic nightmare” came from my childhood love of spiders. I used to collect them, study them and then release them back to their families. My last creation called “the sphere” was from an experience with my children, when one evening, while watching TV, my son looked out the window and saw the moon larger and fuller than normal. He yelled with excitement which alerted the family. We all ran out to the backyard with our telescope to watch the stars and the moon. Such a lovely family experience, hence another hat!

Throughout my childhood I was extremely good creating with my hands. I had been introduced to fashion by my aunt who was a dressmaker and tailor and had always been surrounded by beautiful materials. Thanks Aunty!

What has been your most enjoyable commission?

I had to do some headwear for a theatre production on planets. It was such a challenge as I had to make each individual planet in paper-mache measuring 1m by 1m circumference. They all had to be worn on heads whilst the dancers performed their routine. I found from this experience that millinery is not only about designing spectacular creations… but also about physics! I also love my customers who come to me with their dress and say “Create something for this dress… anything you like… call me when it’s ready!”

Recently, I had been fortunate to be invited to the Dubai Millinery Exhibition in 2006 and 2007. It was quite an experience meeting people from all over the world showcasing my designs along with other exceptional Australian milliners. It was great when one of my hats won the best hat for the Dubai World Cup 2007. I was so overwhelmed.

How would you describe your style of hats?

I describe my style as eclectic. I evolve my designs from season to season. I like my hats to be “remembered” for their artistic beauty. My hats are classical from a bygone era with a bit of quirkiness, avante garde, artistic, witty, sometimes wild but, most importantly, wearable and comfortable.

Who do you make hats for?

I predominately make hats for race goers, brides, after five, communions and garden parties. I work with many respected designers across Melbourne and I wholesale hats to many boutiques across Australia, Dubai and United States.

What materials and techniques do you favor?

I love working with straws, vintage fabrics, crinoline, felts, sinamay or anything unusual that I find in dark places! I love manipulating feathers and making silk flowers. I must admit that I have a real favour for hand-moulding and wire work. It gives me the freedom to express!

Any other interests?

When I am not working on hats, I love going out on the bay with the boat, sailing, reading great books and gym workouts. I love dinners with family and friends, and helping with my children’s sport and dance curriculums. Just being a great mum, wife, daughter, sister and friend!

Become a podcast sponsor through Patreon