Behind The Hat: Christopher Julian Garner

Be inspired by the astounding creativity and technical skills of UK Milliner, Chris Garner. Chris takes us into his enchanted world of ‘Wild Garden’ which was chosen for the X Terrace display, during London Hat Week '19.

The title of your headpiece is ‘Wild Garden.’ How did you develop your idea?
Wild Garden actually came to me on one of my many walks. Fungi is everywhere, and being observant, it’s amazing the places you’ll find it. The Wild Garden is everywhere and we need to look after it. I have always been fascinated by fungi, so it was natural for me to attempt to imitate them. There are so many options. Also in my work I always strive to tell a story or communicate a message.

What materials were used?
Predominately silk was used. Foss-shape for the main structure. Millinery wire. Silk paints. Acid dyes. I actually used a real fungi called lichen as I couldn’t mimic its beauty by hand. There are other processes involved and I am working towards putting together a workshop so that this can be learned. Exciting times.

How did you colour the elements?
Silk paints and dyes all done by hand. I believe when trying to achieve something in nature not to be too precious about how it turns out because you’ll never be able to achieve the real beauty out there. Also by just allowing yourself to be an artist, you will most probably achieve the look you are going for.

What were the challenges creating this piece?
There were some challenges when creating this piece but that is why experimentation is so important. The hours spent experimenting were not included in how long the piece actually took to make. Always make samples of trimmings and if they work they go into a sample box for references for clients and myself. This is a little studio tip I would advise milliners to do. When communicating to clients it’s difficult for them to understand our take on their vision so samples of trimmings always help them see what the finished project may look like.

What do you enjoy the most about creating wearable art?
I enjoy the feedback it receives, good or bad. I actually contemplated adding a recording device to hear people’s conversations and thoughts about the piece. I ran out of time but this idea is in coming to fruition. People’s initial response is always,” Where would you wear that?” My response,” Adventure, live outside your tent!” 

Ever since I started participating in the London Hat Week Exhibition, run by the X Terrace platform, I create pieces that aren’t necessarily commercial but I use it as a chance to be an artist and express myself using my piece as a little soap box for the many problems in the world. Wild Garden is a reminder how our natural world, surrounding us, is so precious and worth looking after. Wearable art is also a great way to test your skills as a creative and allow yourself time to play with your inner child. Go crazy in that sandpit and I bet you will come up with some great ideas.

How do you incorporate a touch of wearable art when styling headwear for an event such as Royal Ascot?
By making everything from scratch. By doing this I have my artistic DNA all over it. I think what is important is to make sure that you are sticking to what you do as a milliner when you create a piece. Milliners will create everything from scratch and thus in my opinion makes it wearable art. 

Not everyone is fearless and a vast majority of people trap themselves into what other people will think of them. When I am creating some bespoke love for a client I will do three to five sketches for them and then discuss it. It allows them to look at options and possibilities as well as helping me upsell to a more expensive design. Nine times out of ten I have sketched a design and it felt good and for some reason the client picks up on that when looking through the designs. I don’t know if it’s the ease of the design or if it’s just knowing the brief but it happens. 

When creating a collection, I see a design in my head and I make it. I used to sketch them but now I just make them as it’s important to have an idea and get it out there, especially in a time where social media fuels business and also makes being original hard. It’s also finding that fine line between commercial and editorial pieces. Wild Garden has allowed me to have confidence in my work and confirmed that experimenting is never a waste of time.

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