Millinery Design Award: Ian Bennett Interview

UK Milliner Ian Bennett was applauded by milliners, racegoers and the judges as his headpiece “Fireworks" took out the Millinery Award on Oaks Day, during the 2016 Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington, Melbourne, Australia.

Congratulations on your sensational multicoloured headpiece, ‘Fireworks’ which took out the Millinery Design Award on Oaks Day in Melbourne last year. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this masterpiece?
Thank you very much. When I think about it now I still cant believe it! I love to draw and if any of you know me I doodle with a biro and sketchbook. The "Fireworks” headpiece was one of those doodles, actually part of a series. It was originally dreamt up by Amanda Macor and myself as a mini collection, based on each month of the year. The ‘Firework' was based on the English celebration of Guy Fawkes, which is commemorated on 5th November. This, by absolute coincidence is roughly when the Melbourne Oaks Day Millinery Award takes place.

It is incredibly intricate, how many feathers were used and how long did it take to complete?
Well, over 500 feathers went into this piece, not to mention all the ones that didn’t make it! It took in total about 11 days, 6 days dyeing alone….

How did you go about planning it all out and constructing the piece?
When I design, I am already trying to think of where wires will go, how I will hide joins, how it will be so close to the face. I don’t ever draw or design anything I can't make, as I’m always ‘unthinking the hat’ before I've even made it. Millinery is engineering, but with added glamour!

It is such an explosion of colour and it was truly incredible from all angles. When creating it did you plan for it to turn out the way it did or did it evolve and change as you went?
I knew how I wanted it to look, but you only truly get the feeling of something once you start creating. I always work with a poupé, or dolly head, so I can see things in the round, looking at line proportion and balance all the time. In terms of evolving, gosh yes! Feathers are a natural product, and as such, they have a presence. I always try to work with the feathers by drawing on their strengths, almost to empower them and give them a new more glamorous lease of life. Things always evolve and I think its only right that they do - you need to let your creation breathe and take on a life of its own.

To ensure such a dramatic headpiece remains stable on the head was a headband sufficient?
The headband worked out really well. As I said earlier, I un-think the hat, starting from the finished piece all the way back to wires, joins, support bars and good old gravity… if your piece is balanced on the head as that piece was and the weight is spread evenly, thats half of your battle…. but I'd be nowhere without bobby pins!

How did you decide on the the outfit worn by the model?
The outfit was made by the incredibly talented Australian fashion designer, Anthony Capon. All I can say is this was a truly wonderful collaboration. I cannot sing his praises enough - he’s a genius! We had never met before and hit it off straight away. We sat down and I showed him the final coloured illustration. He went for it immediately, picking up on the fabulous pink, with asymmetrical details to work with the headpiece. I loved what he had to say. I came away so excited knowing he would do his thing. This made me so happy.

Photos: Richard Shaw

Working with a hairdresser for this piece must have been essential, what did you request specifically to ensure the total look was perfected.
With all sculptural pieces the hair is such an important part of the styling. It needs to be in the way that it is here - not fighting against the hat. Stephanie did a great job of giving the hair great volume and shine without it being over-powering. The piece is quite large, so it took real planning to get it to Flemington Race Course, without being damaged (on a very busy train full of race -goers!) We actually put it on Lisa once we got to the race course. She sat down on a bench and I gripped the piece into place.

How did it feel when they called out your name? Were you surprised or did you have a good feeling about the judges and the crowd's response to the design?
It was, and still is a surprise. I was completely shocked and over-whelmed. The standard was so high and I'd already picked out about 6 that I thought were definite winners. So I thought, 'I haven’t got a chance'. I was very excited to have an entry, but so incredibly nervous about the whole thing. I remember saying 'its worse than having a baby!' - not that I'd know. The tension was incredible… I couldn’t eat or drink… even though so many people had said it was a brilliant piece, I knew the competition level was so high and I had no idea which way this was going to go… it was such a great atmosphere, so when I was called as top ten, I had the proper shakes.

The time went so slowly, then a walk through backstage which was a blur! When third was announced I missed a heartbeat or two, then second was announced and I thought, 'Ive either got nothing or Ive got this.' I looked to the sky and said to myself, 'Nan and grandad (my dear nan died in the Sept whilst I was in Australia teaching) I need your help - I want to make you proud of me, please, let me make you proud.' I took a deep gulp looked at my model and said, "In 10 mins we can eat and drink!" Then Lisa Tan called my number - I couldn’t truly believe it and I still smile every time I think of that moment!! Hearing the crowd and my dear friends cheer meant the world to me! 

What does winning this award mean for Ian Bennett millinery?
Oh gosh, tough question! It means the world to me, validation for all those workroom years, taking apart Victorian mounts, dyeing hundreds of feathers, learning my trade inside and out. To be accepted and praised by people who admire you for doing something you love, is such an incredible thing. It has spurred me on to develop myself and my illustrations. The 'Firework hat and other designs are now post cards and hopefully will make their way out into the world. Currently I am working on a whole new bunch of ideas and techniques for classes during August in Australia then maybe the rest of the world to follow! I love millinery and after 25 years still love it.. I want to share that love and passion with as many people as I can, whilst I can - here’s an old dog loving to teach new tricks.

» Discover Ian Bennet's Bespoke Feathers Course 

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Linda Ford

Great interview.  Can't wait to have this millinery legend in my home in August.  Super super excited. xx

Jeannie
Fabulous fabulous creation!
Adrienne Bennett

Ian Bennett fabulous.

Nono Kish
Great

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