INTERVIEW: PAULA SINGLETON

For US milliner Paula Singleton, making hats brings a huge sense of joy and excitement to her life, however nothing truely compares to when a customer comes into her studio, tries on a hat and feels like she's the only one in the world it was made for. Hats are transformative, in mid 2000 when Paula attended a handmade fair and purchased a hat, her life changed forever all because of one hat. The featured image is one of Paula's favourites, every aspect lovingly handmade by Paula. It is the first hat that Paula ever submitted to the Kentucky Derby Museum annual contest and it won the Judges Choice award in 2010 and was on display in the museum for a year. What an exciting moment for Paula back in 2010 as a growing milliner.

What do you love most about Millinery?
I love the creative aspect and think of millinery as wearable art. One of the most satisfying aspects is seeing a customer's face light up when she sees a hat that I've custom-made for her or when a customer finds a hat in my studio that seems to have been made with only her in mind.

How did you get into Millinery?
I bought a handmade hat at an art fair in 2004 and wore it all day. I received so many compliments that it made me aware of how a great hat affects people - not just the wearer but the observer as well. I have sewn since childhood so after the art fair I made a few hats on my own. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I wanted to learn the proper millinery techniques to achieve better results. Most of the design schools I looked into (so few teach millinery) were too great a distance for me to travel. Then my search led me to a nearby design school with a wonderful millinery instructor where I eventually received my certificate in Millinery. I continue to enjoy taking classes and workshops across the U.S. and learning new techniques.

How you would describe your designs?
Sophisticated yet fun, with interesting details and thoughtful design.

What is your ideal customer?
Anyone who appreciates fine millinery; I especially love creating hats for Kentucky Derby.

What inspires you?
Many things, including nature, fashion, textiles, vintage everything, art, colors, textures.

If you could invite any milliner to tea who would it be?
A tough question! I love the work of Elsa Schiaparelli. Her attention to detail in millinery and clothing is fabulous. From what I have read, her life was a difficult one and she didn't have nearly the level of success as her contemporary, Coco Chanel. Her designs successfully balance a high level of creativity and sophistication. Her 1935 veil with the blue bugle bead "hair" and her shoe hat are unforgettable. I would ask how she created her designs and then offer to work with her (this is a fantasy, right?).

What is your favourite material to work with?
I love working with soft, buttery felt. I have also developed a fondness for sinamay for its versatility in shaping, dying, draping, etc.

Whats your best millinery tip?
Trust your instincts and be true to yourself. Use your local network of milliners if one exists to help you learn, collaborate, problem solve or when seeking advice. Alternatively, there are many groups on social media and online millinery networks. I have found that the community of milliners is overall one of giving and sharing.

What has been the largest challenge you face in millinery?
Finding quality hat boxes that don't cost a fortune! (Just kidding.) One of the important aspects of millinery where I live is accepting that it's a niche market and that not everyone has the confidence or inclination to wear hats. I am fortunate to have a core group of customers who love my work and do their best to promote my business. I consider it a successful day when someone comes into my booth or studio saying they look terrible in hats but then leaves not only with a hat that they love but also with a smile on their face and a new appreciation for a great hat. I also do presentations to groups on finding the right hat and discovered that people are more willing to at least try on some hats in that type of setting. It's an ongoing educational process.

Famous words to live by.
Leap and the net will appear. In other words, don't fear your dreams but embrace them, work toward them and see where they take you.
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