MILLINER from Australia, who has created too many hats to remember…
The many, many “top hats” of Christine Thompson, Milliner from Australia.
In a tiny studio choc-a-bloc full of rolls of material and various patterned fabric, feathers and head stands, Christine Thompson is busily creating her next masterpiece.
Her latest passion is eco dying, using a variety of naturally occurring dyes found in eucalyptus leaves, onion skin and rusty nuts and bolts, instead of chemicals, to dye fabrics and create interesting patterns and colours for the assortment of hats she creates.
Blue Mountains Publications & Top Hat from Mouline Rouge.
Photos from Christine's Fun page.
In a career spanning more than two decades, the Woodford milliner has created too many hats to remember, but there’s one that always stands out.
She had been working on Baz Luhrmann’s colourful 2001 movie Moulin Rouge and had been asked to make a brightly coloured windmill hat, bursting with beads and feathers. She spent six weeks on that particular hat, the longest she’s ever spent on a hat – most take a day – and it didn’t make the cut. Disappointed, she never did find out where the hat went after that.
However, the black velvet top hat she made for Nicole Kidman did make it into the film. Who can forget Kidman’s grand entrance perched on a trapeze complete with top hat, to dazzle the cabaret audience singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.
Thompson met a nervous Kidman whose dressing room had been “flooded with flowers” as a warm welcome from director Baz Luhrmann. She interpreted Kidman’s nervousness as an uncertainty about her appearance.
“If you’re at an opening and you want to be known or noticed, wear a hat.”
After Moulin Rouge Thompson was asked to work on one of the Star Wars movies. She had taken a six-month break from her primary job as a milliner at Opera Australia to work on Moulin Rouge, and hoped to continue with Star Wars while remaining in a part-time capacity at Opera Australia. But then the head milliner Connie Kerr retired, age 80, and Thompson took on the role.
She spent 15 years with Opera Australia in Sydney, learning valuable traditional millinery skills, and working with some of the best designers and milliners in the business.
One of her favourite productions was My Fair Lady. “It’s all about the hats,” she says with a smile. Thompson and three others made about 30 hats of varying size, the widest being one metre. “After we made all those hats they told us they had to be under 1kg,” she recalls.
That proved to be quite a challenge undoing all their good work and cutting back each hat, weighing and reweighing until each was light enough. The 1m wide hat may have been a touch over 1kg, Thompson says with a chuckle.
A designer would provide drawings of the hats he or she wanted members of the cast to wear and Thompson would make them.
Sometimes a dancer or singer would hate a hat the designer loved, often because hats tend to muffle sound, so there would be modifications made to the hat. “You would have to develop a tough skin,” Thompson said, but she enjoyed the work. “There were always complex designs that would challenge and stretch you.”
Five years ago, at age 50, Thompson decided to leave Opera Australia and start her own business, Christine’s Millinery, attending markets and festivals, and running workshops around the country.
She’s come a long way from the days of working as an office worker, who decided to learn to sew at age 30 when she couldn’t hem a pair of trousers. She enrolled in a millinery course no longer offered at Katoomba TAFE, and has never looked back. “I did it ‘cause I loved it but had no idea what to do with it,” Thompson said. While she was studying at TAFE she did work experience at Opera Australia, and the rest is history.
Thompson is one of a declining number of milliners who can pattern draft, meaning she can make hats by designing a hat pattern herself.
In April she became an artist in residence at the Woodford Academy, where she has a showroom displaying a selection of her hats, everything from steampunk-inspired numbers to woollen caps for winter, to special occasion hats for weddings and races. She’s at the academy’s open day the third Saturday of every month and at other times by appointment.
Her most popular are race or special occasion hats and she’s now considering providing hats for hire.
Along the way she’s discovered people often don’t know how to wear a hat. Instead of plunking it straight on top of the head, it’s best tilted to the side, Thompson explains. And she’s not afraid to tactfully tell a person if a hat doesn’t suit them. “I would much rather tell someone it doesn’t suit them than they go somewhere and people say ‘what are you wearing!’”
She says people’s eyes will naturally be drawn to whoever is wearing a hat in a crowd.“If you want to get ahead, you wear a hat,” Thompson says.“If you’re at an opening and you want to be known or noticed, wear a hat.”
For more information visit her website www.christinesmillinery.com.au
Actress Tammy Bartaia & FAshion Blogger Irina Kalonatchi, photography by United Images, Sydney.
Fashionblogger Irina Kalonatchi/Fashionblogger and Randwick Racegoewer-Fashionista wearing Christine's Hats.
Actress Tammy Bartaia modelling hats by Christines Millinery, read about Tammy here:
Photographer George Gittany, read more about George here:
Photos from 2015-04-08 CREATIVES UNCOVERED Event, organized by Sharron Garrard.