So there are a few ways you can become a milliner. The first would be to learn the ropes from the huge variety of short or intensive courses, books and YouTube tutorials. You can do an internship with a milliner and learn the basics (although there aren’t many available nowadays.) Or you can learn in a classroom at TAFE (also known as technical college) or university. TAFE was the way I wanted to go
Millinery is normally taught as an elective within a more generalise fashion degree at universities and TAFEs however a small handful of colleges offer millinery as a stand-alone course and you can get qualified as a milliner by completing certificate two, three and four. This qualification takes about a year if completed full time. I went the easier route and completed the course over three years, part time.
There’s so much to learn and you can never master every technique as millinery is as fluid and changeable as any other fashion so believe me when I say becoming a milliner isn’t easy. (We shall not speak of those who are trained in the art of glue gun and plastic flowers calling themselves milliners, that’s a whole other rant.)
Now I have always loved hats but what drew me into becoming a milliner was living in Melbourne, Australia and loving going to the Spring Racing Carnival. The Melbourne Cup Carnival such a huge affair (and you know we take horse racing seriously when we get a day off work to go see the race!) I have always loved the glamour of getting dressed up, having a champagne breakfast and heading to see the horses racing.
In 2011 I was in the second year of university doing a visual art major in an Arts degree and was really growing to dislike painting. I was being forced to be creative when I wasn’t inspired and it mean that I really hated my finished products. I had to look elsewhere for my true creative outlet.
Spring came around and I started planning my outfit for the races. I had an epiphany… “Millinery! It’s like sculptural art but you can wear it!” So I did some research and signed up to a short course at Torb and Reiner (a millinery supply shop and school) with the brilliant Waltraud Rainer to see if it was for me.
Of course, I fell in love! Being able to dream up a design and make it come to life with your own two hands was so exciting to me. In that first class at Torb and Reiner I made a giant sun hat with a spray of feather shaped sinnamay on it. In retrospect it was a bit lame and not very well thought out but it definitely re-lit the creative fire in me. I looked around and found the only TAFE in Melbourne where you could get fully qualified as a milliner in a stand-alone course and I applied straight away.
It took three years of part time study to complete the three millinery certificates (most of the time I was simultaneously studying at Uni full time and working full time to support myself so it was a hectic time) but millinery never really felt like real work to me. I could work a ten hour day and get home and sit in front of the TV and create something beautiful. It was so rewarding and I was so inspired by the incredible teachers at Kangan Institute- from Serena Lindeman, Rose Hudson, Georgina Conheady and Melissa Jackson to the late and very great Paris Kyne, to name a few.
In my final year of TAFE, once I had finished University, I secured an internship with the incredible Richard Nylon. I worked for him for 6 months helping him create his Melbourne Spring Fashion Week Avant Garde collection and assisting with his spring racing and bridal creations with his pint sized fabulous helper Kristine Walker (The Human Chameleon). It was here I gained some insight into the busy world of bridal millinery and was utterly captivated. Around those time I also did a huge range of specialised short courses to really nail a bunch of fantastic skills like leather and lacework.
In the year where I worked for Richard, I was also creating around the clock for myself as Ash Grey. I worked on some amazing ranges and did three different Melbourne Spring Fashion Week runways in collaboration with a handful of other designers. Namely the beautiful Ellen Loutas of Saej Design. But it was then that the travel bug came calling.
After a few years travelling and skipping back and forth between the UK and Australia I have spent time honing my (millinery and business) skills and decided to focus my new range on the things I love- mainly leather and flower making- and have begun moving a who new focussed direction with Ash Grey Millinery. It’s been a great journey so far and I hope to get more hats on heads as I go along.