If you want to get ahead, get a hat’ or so the slogan goes, and if local milliner Audrey Doherty had her way, Derry would be brimming with fabulous headgear all year round, not just throughout the Legenderry August Craft Month!
Local crafters/makers have been playing a key role in the promotion of all things craft-related with the support of Derry City Council’s Craft Development Programme, which is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.
Audrey Doherty, who grew up in Carndonagh, ran a ‘Roses from the Heart’ bonnet making workshop, in remembrance of Ireland’s ‘convict’ women who were transported to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This weekend, the local designer will run a two-day millinery course in the Creative Village Arts Studio at Pump Street in Derry, which is also expected to be booked out.
Audrey recalled: “I always had a creative streak that my dad encouraged me to cultivate - and still does.
After secondary school I passed my interview for a place on the third level Art course at the Regional College in Letterkenny (now LYIT) but didn’t feel quite ready to leave home at that point. I subsequently moved to England, completed a one year Fine Art Portfolio course, and enrolled on a Fashion & Textiles Foundation course where I was introduced to millinery.
“Chloe Balcham was my first millinery teacher - ‘old school’ and very strict about correct finish and attention to detail.
“She also taught me how to make silk flowers.
“I use her camellia flower pattern often to make trims for my hats and I call them ‘Chloe’s Camellias’ to remember her.”
Audrey went to London Guildhall University to study Architecture & Interior Design but was drawn back to millinery and applied to Kensington & Chelsea College, the premier college in London for millinery, where she honed her skills under Kirsten Scott - who designed for Chanel, Lagerfeld and Fendi - and other tutors highly regarded in the industry.
“Chloe Balcham attended my Final Collection Show during Chelsea Festival at Chelsea Old Town Hall. I was so pleased she was there.
“I had participated in a major Bridal Exhibition at the Savoy Hotel, was supplying a bridal outlet and several independent boutiques and providing bespoke work to private clients by the time I had completed my course.”
Professional millinery is an integral aspect of the fashion industry. However taking a course and making your own hat for a special occasion can be very rewarding.
According to Audrey: “It’s wonderful to be able to say ‘I made it myself’ when your headpiece attracts attention.”
She explained: “You have to love sewing as this is a huge part of the work. Couture millinery techniques and skills are acquired over a number of years as with any specialist discipline. A milliner also has to have a good imagination to design and bring ideas to fruition, be a good colourist and stylist, have knowledge of what hat style suits which face shapes and a knowledge of other textile skills.
“I usually ask for at least six weeks to fulfil a hat order - not because it takes that long - but because I’m working on other commissions and also materials have to be ordered from milliner suppliers - mine are in London as there aren’t any suppliers here. It takes me about 10 hours to make a full hat. This does not include time taken with consultations during the making process.
“I can’t count how many times ladies have said to me, ‘I can never find a hat that fits’ or ‘I can never find a style that suits me’. When you buy from a local milliner or indeed any professional crafts person you are supporting a local enterprise and respecting the talent in your locality.
“Hats are always more popular when people in the public eye and celebrities are wearing them. The lovely thing is that ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes can wear a beautiful hat.”
Audrey revealed that her youngest customer was aged just 14. “She was holidaying in London and out shopping with her granddad and fell in love with one of my designs - a little sky blue and orange one trimmed with ‘Chloe’s camellias’.
“Race meetings definitely prop up the millinery industry - here, in England, Australia and the Middle East. Ladies will always need a hat or headdress for Ladies Day and you won’t get into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot without one!”
Asked if there was anyone famous she would like to create a hat for, Audrey said: “Audrey Hepburn if she were still alive - Hubert de Givenchy dressed her mainly, on screen and off. She knew how to ‘wear’ a hat!
“If you are going to wear a hat you have to do it with confidence, which is why it has to be exactly right. Grace Kelly too and Sophia Loren knew how to ‘carry off’ a hat. And Elizabeth Taylor wore some of the most beautiful, extraordinary headdresses. Nowadays - Angelena Jolie maybe!”
Audrey confessed: “I love all my hats - they are like my babies! If I’ve had one of my designs for too long I might decide to not ever sell it. I like to know they are going to a good home too, that they’ll be treated with love and care.
“A woman was buying one of my headdresses once for a wedding and announced that she wanted to ‘upstage’ the bride. I talked her out of the sale because I felt her intentions weren’t good.”
Contact Audrey to book a place on her course by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07535 350702.