It’s always great to run into people from your past. You know the drill: what’s new and what are you doing, etc. I so enjoyed running into Melissa Bolin of Kitty Andrews Millinery recently. And I loved her story, after a few years of working in finance at Goldman Sachs, she decided to pursue her true creative calling, gorgeous, bespoke millinery. Each piece is hand crafted at her studio in San Francisco. I had a chance to catch up with Melissa recently. Check out her take on millinery for brides and some photos of her wonderful hats and facinators.

SJ: Please tell us a little about your background. What made you decide to pursue a career designing hats?

While I was studying at university, and then again when I was at the fashion institute here in San Francisco, I worked in retail to get a handle on how the fashion industry works from the boutique level.   This was a tremendous experience because I had the opportunity to work closely with clients and learn the importance of great customer service, as well as the invaluable nature of producing a high quality product.  Upon graduation I decided to pursue a career in one of my degrees, Finance and Economics, and took a position at Goldman, Sachs & Co., where after a few years I came to the obvious realization that my calling was back in fashion.

Hat design and production (the art of millinery), has always been a hobby of mine, although I haven’t been formally trained, I have read dozens of texts, taken classes, curated hat collections, and scrutinized famous milliners work that I have purchased and worn since I was a girl.  When the designers that were being offered didn’t suit my own taste, I started heavily designing and producing my own hats and headpieces.  Soon people started to notice my headwear and I decided to take the hobby to a higher level.  This is when Kitty Andrews Millinery came to be.

SJ: Are your hats/millinery all custom made to order or are there some stock styles to choose from?

Currently, all the pieces offered by Kitty Andrews are made-to-order.  Custom touches can be requested by the client to make the piece special for the wearer.

SJ: Can your hats/millinery work with just about any style of wedding dress and/or bridesmaid dresses?

Our recent bridal collection features hats and fascinators that can work with almost any style and taste of gown from the most embellished to the elegantly simple.  In addition, I do create bespoke millinery pieces for brides that would like a custom approach.

SJ Are the pieces heavy? Do they require clips and hair pins? How do they stay on?

As a milliner, it is essential to know the proper materials to use on a hat or headpiece, but have the confidence to experience with new materials.  Light fabrics such as straws, light woven fibers, fur felts, feathers, and other trims must be delicate enough for the client to comfortably wear the piece for an extended amount of time.

Now, when it comes to creating hats and headpieces for a runway show or theatrical event, a different approach can be taken.  The headpieces are only worn for a short amount of time and can be a bit more extravagant and avant-garde, but still must be created to stay on top of the wearers head.

Most millinery work is held onto the head with combs, hat elastics (worn just above the hairline at the base of the head), headbands, and hair pins.  It all depends on the style and the wearers requests.  Hat pins (put through the hair on an up-do) can also be a pretty way to offer additional support.

SJ: What is the minimum lead time to book with you? 

The typical lead time for a millinery piece is 6 weeks, but rush orders are always considered.  Custom requests requires a 10 week turn around based on availability of materials.

SJ: Can you work with a bride long distance?

The technology offered today makes long distance orders quite easy.  I will often “Skype” with a bride to show progress on a piece, correctly measure a head size, and they will often put the hats on for me to help them style, all electronically.

SJ: What are the price ranges?

Our pieces range anywhere from $150 for a hair pick to the thousands for a custom piece.  It all depends on what the client requests. 

SJ: If a bride loves your pieces, should she choose the millinery first and then the dress? Or should she select the dress first?

This is really up to the bride.  I worked for Vera Wang Bridal in the past and I do believe that picking the gown is most important.  Adding accessories that bring out the bride’s character and personality should come second because hats can be customized much easier than gowns offered these days.  At Kitty Andrews we work with the bride to enhance the entire trousseau!

SJ: What are your most favorite materials to work with?

Some of my favourite materials to work with are sinamay (a woven straw fabric), fur felts, silk organza, Russian veiling, organza flowers, romantic feathers, and other luxurious materials.  The quality of the materials I start out with really makes a difference when it comes to the finished product.

SJ: What is trending right now or what are you seeing that is popular for hats/millienary for brides and bridesmaids right now?

I’m noticing in trends for 2012/13 gown designers are continuing the use of tissue organza appliqués, featherwork, excessive amounts of texture, and bustle details.  Bridal houses are featuring a surge of sheer embellished sleeves (à la Kate Middleton), and an overall more romantic look from many designers the last couple of seasons.  This continued trend pairs fabulously with some of the headpieces that Kitty Andrews currently offers.  Continuing the drama all the way to the top of the head with a piece such as the Naomi or Lourdes would be stunning.

In the accessories realm, plenty of metalwork & jewellery integrated into sashes and headpieces is still popular.  (Kitty Andrews will be incorporating this into some collaboration pieces for Spring/Summer 2012 – stay tuned!)

Some of the shorter dresses seen as of late would pair well with a jaunty fascinator such as the Babette or Penelope and the elegant, classic, and simple styles couple quite well with an over the top headpiece such as the Persephone or Claudette that when created with a detachable veil can be worn comfortably throughout the reception and be a real showstopper.

Adding a Kitty Andrews Millinery accessory can give the bride a unique look with a traditional feel (think 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s) an avant-garde, over-the-top, structural approach, or dreamy, passionate and amorous bridal experience.  It all depends on the wearer!

SJ: Do you think all the attention upon Kate Middleton and all the British women sporting hats will help popularize more women wearing hats here in the states?

The British have always worn hats to weddings, it is steeped in their tradition of wearing hats to church and typically through the ages weddings were most often conducted in the church.  Today people wear hats because it is fun!  Not every day can you wear a wide brimmed hat or feathered creation (unless you are Kitty Andrews) so why not go with it?

SJ: What other advice would you offer a bride who might want to depart from the traditional veil and go with a spectacular hat/headpiece?

Find a designer that is willing to listen, work with you and be honest about your requests.  A milliner that has a working knowledge of bridal and the demands of being a bride is essential.  In addition, although bespoke millinery is a bit more expensive, it is worth it.  Many fascinators and headpieces “off-the-rack” tend to be cheaply produced and glued together.  Your wedding is a special day and you should have what makes you feel stunning and spectacular.

SJ: Thanks so much Melissa for sharing your insight on millinery for brides. To see more of the Kitty Andrews collection, click here.

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