Katie Allen Interview

Texture, movement and elegance are all part of what makes a good hat and this gorgeous design by Katie Allen has all of these elements in spades. Coming from a costume design background, Katie knows the importance of drama in a hat to help tell a story. The story of the wearer, the milliner and the time in which it exists. Katie's background and love of historic pieces has had a major influence on her designs which have recently taken a more modern and fashion based approach and this vivacious silk, straw and leather hat is a fabulous example. Read on to find out more about Katie's world of millinery. 

What do you love most about Millinery? 
Fiber art has always been a passion for me and millinery has it all and then some! I can stitch, sculpt, melt, dye, distress, and embellish all in the same piece. So many different art forms can be worked into headwear!

How did you get into Millinery? 
My mother loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals so I watched them quite a lot growing up and fell in love with costuming and more specifically Irene Malloy's hat shop in Hello Dolly. I pursued a degree in Costume Design and Technology where I was given theatrical millinery instruction as well as instruction in other relevant areas of fiber work. Upon graduating I was lucky enough to keep working in theatre in some capacity for many years, learning even more from my employers and visiting designers. I eventually took on private garment making commissions and soon was also trying my hand at a few hats. It blossomed from there and through the urging of a good friend I formally began my label and found myself living out my childhood dream, minus Barbara Streisand. 

Tell us how you would describe your designs.
I tend toward classic shapes with layers of texture and, possibly due to the amount of antique and vintage trims I use, everything from a modern percher to a classic wide brim sun hat has a bit of a bygone feel.

What is your ideal customer? 
I love a customer who doesn't shy away from giving feedback, both during the design process and after wearing the piece. I really enjoy the collaborative nature of bespoke hats.

What inspires you?
I'm sure I am not alone in saying most everything around me. That being said the ideas can be very overwhelming at times so I find that I can narrow my focus by running through my favorite material shops. Sometimes a vague idea is instantly made clear simply by picking up and handling the available resources. 

If you could invite any milliner to tea who would it be and why.
Bridget Bailey. Her beautifully detailed insects have such realism and an incredible sense of movement. I am in awe of her ability to sculpt ordinary millinery materials. I've been told she gives wonderful classes and is very generous with her knowledge. I hope to have the opportunity to learn from her some day.

What is your favourite material to work with? 
I have "of the moment" favorites but I always go back to silk. I find that almost anything I need from base to trim can be achieved with silk. I've even found that the right weave blocks much like sinamay with the right sizing.

Whats your best millinery tip? 
Limited resources can be a very good thing. It can be hard to find millinery materials where I live so often I am forced to get creative. I find some of my best innovative work and design has come from making do.

What has been the largest challenge you face in millinery? 
I'm a stay at home mom to two beautiful girls ages six and one, I can never fully plan any day because with children the unexpected always happens. I started my business burning the candle at both ends, saying yes to everything, and letting others dictate my completion time frames. That my friends is a recipe for a panic attack! I had to learn that saying no is ok, even if it feels like a missed opportunity at the time. I'm not in a race and there is no finish line. I've relaxed my approach and am growing little by little each year. I do look forward to a full day of creating in my studio (once everyone is in school) but until then I'm going to keep it manageable and enjoy every minute of motherhood.

Famous words to live by. 
"Every artist was once an amatuer." - Ralph Waldo Emerson. I remember being very intimidated when I put my first few designs out there. I felt like a fraud somehow, just someone playing milliner. It is easy to forget we all had to start somewhere.

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