For milliner Ilana Meilak, her ever enduring love affair with hats started from a very young age. Ilana's father was in the business of antiques and for Ilana, growing up around vintage clothing and accessories was always fascinating, however, it was hats that really captivated her young mind. She was so intrigued by the mystery behind them, pondering who the owner might have been and carefully analysing the stitches and craftsmanship. Ilana soon realised that she wanted to be a part of creating beautiful hats for people, passing on the happiness they gave her to whoever was lucky enough to discover her creations. She wanted to continue the craft and pass on the passion and she certainly has done that. 

What do you love the most about Millinery?
I love that I can express my creativity and that I have a passion for something that makes me so happy. The feeling of creating something for someone and seeing it on them and the happiness it brings them is priceless.

I love that I can use so many different fabrics and techniques and love challenging myself making my dreams reality. I love collecting antique hat blocks and vintage trims and mixing materials from another time with materials from this time. Nothing compares to the buzz I get after finishing a hat and looking at the finished product and knowing I’ve made something beautiful in this world. I love that I can bring an old skill into the modern world and leave my own mark on something for someone to treasure forever.

How did you get into Millinery?
My obsession for hats started at a young age, as my father owned an antique brass bed shop In Oxford Street Paddington in the late 80’s. Growing up around Antiques had a huge influence on me and opened up my eyes to another world. I was always drawn to vintage clothing and lead to collecting vintage hats. I loved the thought of the history behind the object, the craftsmanship and the thought of who owned that item and what their life was like, always fascinated me and let me escape back to the yesteryear.

After studying fashion design, make up artistry and visual merchandising over the years I decided the do something a bit different and studied millinery at Tafe in 2005 as at the time there was only a few milliners around. Millinery came very naturally to me as growing up my mother and I use to do a lot of needlecraft, drawing and sewing, something that was passed down from her generation so being creative was in my blood. I started off using a lot of felt and my first hat I made was a black and white 20s cloche and the rest is history.

How you would describe your designs?
The House of Hats designs are highly influenced by all things vintage.

Mostly Art Deco as I’m totally obsessed with that movement, the architecture, geometric design and the glamour really drives me creatively. I have a variation of different styles in my designs ranging  from cloches widebrim, boho hats, showgirl headdresses and bridal headpieces. A mix of bridal theatrical and everyday fashion pieces, but thay all have a vintage feel.  

My latest collection ‘Enchantment‘ which is a collection of headpieces mainly using brass components and Swarovski crystals is influenced by the fantasy Art Nouveau movement from water nymphs, butterflies and nature.  

We absolutely love this design can you tell us a little more about it?
This hat is called “ The Secret Garden’ inspired by the book and the fantasy of youth and innocence. It is a vintage mint straw base that has been blocked into a saucer shape and attached to a headband coved in vintage mint grosgrain.

I trimmed this hat with vintage Hydrangea petals to create a romantic feminine feel then finished it off with some hailstone veiling sweeping across the face.

What is your ideal Customer?
My ideal customer is someone who puts their trust in my work knowing and loves my style and really appreciates the hours and love I put into each hat for them to enjoy and treasure. I love seeing their reaction when they try on the finished product, it brings me such joy. 

What inspires you? 
Mostly anything from the yesteryear, the 1920s Art deco movement  through to the 70’s, colours, romance, art, fantasy, nature, texture. I have a huge collection of vintage books that I get a lot of my inspiration from.

What is your favourite material to work with?
Definitely fur felt, I love how you can manipulate it so much and pretty much create any shape using it and as it was the most used material in the 1900’s- 1940’s.  I love the movement of it.

I also love fabrics such as silk that I use in my turbans that have been very popular, I also use silk to hand tool all my flowers using antique French flowers tool that you heat up over a flame and mould each petal to create the perfect flower. I‘ve been using wire a lot lately with my bridal my crowns to create different styles and shapes being able to manipulate it creates a variety of different styles that I use with pearls and crystals. That has been a popular bridal trend at the moment.

What is your best Millinery Tip?
To not be influenced in what everyone else is doing and to create your own personal style. Experiment with different materials, think outside the square and stand out from the crowd. I’m always experimenting with different materials old and new and love mixing different mediums together. Millinery is wearable art and an expression. Live it, breathe it, wear it.

What has been the largest challenge you face in millinery and how did you overcome it?
Oh, that’s a hard one, it’s still a challenge to date, and I’m still being challenged every day. It’’s  hard stay afloat in a world where everything is so mass-produced and disposable.

It’s really about educating people on the love of a handmade product, it’s unique, hours go into it, so much love and passion, it’s not always easy, sometimes it’s a lot of trial and error but the finished product is so satisfying. Experience is everything. Millinery has become a very competitive trade when I started there was only a handful but now as the trade has grown a lot more.

I have never given up even in hard times, Millinery is a part of me and my life journey it is who I’ve become. 

Famous words to live by?
Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. 

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Tags: #millineryinterview, Ilana Meilak, The House of Hats

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