Fascinating Fascinators

Photo courtesy of FameFlynet Pictures

The past year and a half has been full of new experiences for the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Kate Middleton), as well as for those who love her from afar. The “Kate Effect,” as the infatuation with her fashion choices has come to be called, has influenced style across the globe. Dresses that she is seen wearing sell out in hours and the demand for them has even crashed lucky retailers’ websites. I have to admit, that I am one of the many who are obsessed impressed with the future queen’s style and grace.

The one element of Kate’s outfits that is most striking to American audiences is her headwear: we Yankees love those Brit’s hats. There was a parade of fascinators worn by nearly every guest at the royal wedding last year and Kate has dazzled us with her choice of fascinators from her first trip abroad as a royal to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. As Americans – and specifically Bostonians – get more familiar with the different ways to top off an outfit, the demand has grown for toppers themselves.

Photo courtesy of Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Boston’s only trained milliner (I tried to find another and was unable, which is why I have deemed her the “only,” speak up if I’m incorrect) has been the beneficiary of this spike in fascination with fascinators. Irish-born Marie Galvin of Galvin-ized Headwear has been making hats in Boston since 1998, and has been in her current location in the city’s South End since 2007.  She started out in fashion design (her grandmother was also a designer), but was struck by the power of a hat.

“You can go from drab to fab in a couple seconds,” Marie said cheerfully on the late summer afternoon I spent with her. She says a person stands taller when they wear a hat; they walk with more confidence and with an extra bounce in their step. I tried it, it’s true.

Marie was already living in Boston when she started her love affair with hats. She could not find any schools or milliners to learn from, so she bought old books on millinery and taught herself. Many of the materials and equipment she needed were not available in the States, so she had to order them from the UK, the mother land of millinery. It was a hard road, but hat-by-hat she got better and better. Today she executes her designs in the back of her boutique which looks like the Santa’s workshop of hats with Marie as the one and only elf.

Marie makes all sorts of hats: chic and warm winter hats, berets, fascinators and couture pieces for weddings and special occasions. Her creations are whimsical and playful, they can be sexy, and sometimes practical, but are always beautiful. Her shop is the place to go for Kentucky Derby toppers and increasingly spring and summer weddings.

Marie steaming the felt

To celebrate the start of Fashion Week and because we are inching our way into fall (I am shedding a tear as I type this), Marie thought I should try my hand (literally) at making a beret. Marie makes each of her hats by hand and it can take days to complete one piece. For this beret we started with felt, sounds simple enough right? Wrong! The felt, has to be flexible enough to be stretched over a form. To do that, Marie steams the material until it becomes malleable. Marie holds the fabric over a steam machine that spits out boiling vapor, which can be a little tricky…seriously…I scalded my fingers. Next, Marie and I stretched the fabric over the beret form and pinned it in place. This typically has to sit overnight to fully take on the appropriate shape. Much like a morning show cooking segment, Marie had berets at different stages of development set up for me. So instead of coming back the next day, we cut off the excess felt and moved on to sewing a thin wire to the edge of another beret that had already been left overnight. We used a huge needle because the felt is so thick. Much like my upholstery projects, it was one of those moments that I wish I knew more about sewing. The wire gives the beret shape and we then covered our work with piece of glossy black grosgrain ribbon.

On the mold

The hallmark of Marie’s pieces is the attention to detail, one look inside her shop and that is clear. For the beret we were working on Marie showed me how she hand-stitches beautiful jewel tone feathers to the top. This beret is perfect for fall and a perfect way to wade into the waters of fashion headwear. The beret fastens around your head with a thin piece of elastic that disappears into your hair, even my ginger locks. I was so happy to learn that this is how Kate’s hats stay so perfectly in place.

The process of making a hat – even a relatively simple one like the beret – is complex and takes a great deal of time. And Marie does all this after she has designed the hat…in her head she says. The real testaments to her talent are the fascinators on display in her shop. I am dying to get one, specifically the navy one at the bottom of this post. I just need the right party or wedding to which to wear it. Hint, hint my friends. Millinery is a lost art, as is, perhaps , the wearing of these elegant accessories.

My Beautiful beret

The making of this beret, and I am sure it is the case with all of Marie’s creations, requires a lot of my patience (a virtue that I am gradually acquiring week-by-week), it is similar to upholstery in that way. My generation of post-feminist daughters, were in large part spared the “Home Ec” classes that our mothers and grandmothers suffered through (or took joy in, I am not judging). As a result, I have had to get comfortable with sewing, cooking and other domestic tasks that were once considered women’s’ “jobs,” in my 20s and now my 30s, as opposed to in the middle school classroom.  This is an odd feeling at times, and an interesting cultural discussion to have.

Marie’s work will be featured in an exhibit opening this Saturday, September 8th, at The Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit “Hats” will also feature the work of some of the world’s most well-known milliners. Marie will be on-hand on Saturday to lead a discussion on choosing and styling the perfect hat, she will be followed by a presentation by Stephen Jones, he is like the Chanel of milliners. So this is a big deal! This is sure to be an amazing opening day and I hope to see you there!

Courtesy of Anna Sikora, one of Marie’s satisfied customers

One of Marie’s more whimsical creations

My favorite! It has my name on it, just waiting for the right occasion

I was not compensated in any way for this post, and the berets I worked on are on sale at Galvin-ized Headwear.

5 thoughts on “Fascinating Fascinators

  1. Pingback: Front Row or Bust | The Great Wide Open

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