Can you believe we have our very own high fashion milliner in Orange?! Because Fiona Schofield is just that. From tiny, delicate, vintage style fascinators for the races all the way through to warm and stylish winter fedoras, Fiona makes them all!
We caught up with this dedicated and knowledgeable designer at her fabulous home studio and workshop to see just how she makes these amazing pieces.
When and how did you discover millinery as a creative outlet? Do you work with any other mediums?
I had always been interested in clothing design and I enrolled at The Whitehouse Institute in Sydney to study Fashion Design and Illustration as soon as I completed High School. The expectations and deadlines were tough and I thrived in the environment. Our presentations (usually every 8-12 weeks) always had to be on a fully styled model – shoes, bags, hats, jewels – and we were offered millinery as an elective to learn the skills to create individual works for our designs. It was like a whole new world opened up! I loved the materials and the blocks and that you could take a two dimensional fabric, straw, felt or cloth and block and shape it into a three dimensional work. I enjoyed working with my hands much more than being reliant on machines required for clothing which I think was a real tipping point in my decision to pursue the skills for the industry. Millinery is quite sculptural and the process really agreed with me. I started working with Neil Grigg Millinery in my final year and spent a further 6 years training and working with him and his small team. We worked on all areas of millinery including bespoke wedding and race wear, production design ranges for major department stores, theatre and commercial corporate work.
I am trained in patternmaking and construction as well as design and still enjoy working on garments, though the hand sewing and hand work in general – especially beading and embroidery – are what really draws my interest. I also have a small accessories line that includes feathered necklaces, hand-made flowers and silk purses. I also hand dye which is very satisfying – especially when flower making – to get beautiful soft tones.
Why millinery as opposed to other creative outlets?
Fashion, design and style have always been a constant source of interest. I realised once I started studying at college that my true love was accessories – bags, hats, shoes, jewellery, gloves…Millinery, especially race wear and bridal work – is like creating little sculptured artworks that you get to wear!
Most of our readers won’t know how you make your hats, can you give us a brief description of your process?
Hats usually start from felt for winter or straw from summer. You work with either a hood (small) or capeline (large) depending on the design. (It’s the Millinery equivalent of buying a piece of fabric to make a dress.) From there, you work the material on blocks to shape and mould the material into your design.
Specialty pieces for weddings and races are often hand blocked bases in unusual, organic shapes covered in silks. All the beading is hand done (not bought panels) and the flowers are all made by hand as well in beautiful silks and organzas using specific flower making tools.
What is it about your work that you find most appealing and satisfying?
Looking for simplicity and style as well as functionality in a design is really important to me. It’s not enough for a design to just look good, it has to be wearable (even the really extravagant pieces!) and it has to compliment the wearer. It is also a real joy to help someone find a hat that feels comfortable and really suits them and their needs. I often see people for special occasions, which is a lovely time to be involved in, but increasingly I see more and more women and men who just want a great hat that works for their needs, fits them and looks good as well. I have a strong leaning to working in a neutral colour palette (my favourites are tea dyed silks in warm biscuity tones), and it is very important to me that each piece that comes out of the workroom has our signature look and feel.
What would you say your main source of inspiration is? Are there any designers or artists that inspire your work?
Nature and Art are the two major key points of inspiration. I like to look at fashion, and follow where trends are leading but I am much more interested in creating “style’ over ‘fashion’. The materials I use are also a great source of inspiration. I am constantly looking for new ways to use them and developing new designs to turn them into. I spent six years with Dinosaur Designs working in their studio and I really loved my time with them. I admire their skill and approach and love their work. They inadvertently taught me a lot about having a work/life balance and how, if you really love what you are doing, the boundaries between the two blur.