Kerrie Stanley’s eclectic, unorthodox style has earned her a celebrity following that includes the likes of Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton-John, Delta Goodrem, Rebecca Judd, and local models Jennifer Hawkins, and Andreja Pejic.
The decorated milliner, who has won a number of Fashions on the Field awards, as well as the coveted Oaks Day Professional Millinery Award, is also a much sought after stylist, make-up artist and commentator. Broad got chatting with Kerrie about how she got into such an interesting line of work, and the art of avoiding trends.
So Kerrie, how did you get into making hats?
Well, my background is in hair and make-up, and when I moved to Melbourne almost 18 years ago now, I fell into it while looking after Rhonda Burchmore. I was working on a photoshoot with her, and she was going to be judging Fashions on the Field and she said to me, would you make me something, and I just answered – yeah, sure (laughing). Not knowing really too much at that stage if I’m honest but being confident I could pull it off.
Prior to that, back in Brisbane, I had been working at Tognini’s Salon with Benni (Tognini). I would’ve only been 20 at the time. I used to build these incredible headpieces for shows and shoots, and working as his apprentice he taught me the craft, and all the elements of design and construction. It was Benni really, that got me started and influenced my design aesthetic.
Anyway, Rhonda had asked me to make her something, so I got into it. Nobody was doing fresh flowers at the time, so I raided the gardens around Malvern and Armadale – I knocked first of course – can I have your roses and your vines? And I just created a headpiece, in a way that no-one had done it before in a sense.
Rhonda was rapt – I got to go to the Cup (Melbourne Cup) with her,
and I was on Good Morning Australia with her and Bert Newton. I was in my
element. I had only been in Melbourne three months and yet here I was at the Melbourne Cup. It was phenomenal.
And what do you enjoy most about the industry?
I guess a big part of it is the freedom for me to do the work I want to do, because when I am working on my own projects, that’s when I am at my most happiest. I’ve never conformed to trends. Never been trend driven. I have always tried to innovate. Again, that’s from Benni's influence. Keeping an eye out for interesting and unusual materials. Things that are non-traditional – and not to toot my own horn, that’s just what inspires me. If somebody had’ve approached me to see if I could make a really traditional, floral style hat, I would’ve bloody struggled.
In terms of the industry there really is scope for us all, there is room for all of us. Though at the moment I do feel there is a bit of lazy styling going on, a bit of whatever is easiest. And then there is also a lot of mass production to keep up with these shifting trends. Which has been to the detriment of a lot of millinery at the moment.
You've been referred to as a millinery maverick, how would you describe your aesthetic?
It’s quite minimalistic really, inspired by line and form and those really key principles of design. I don’t like things to be too over cluttered or even over thought. And definitely no frou frou. If the material is simple, the form has to be strong, and vice versa.
And new, emerging materials are making life easier for me, for any of us (milliners) really. This morning I got up early to make myself a piece for a breakfast I was attending. I made it using this leather that is set on a heat reactant thermoplastic and can be moulded into any shape you like. Before things like this were around, it would’ve all had to have been held up with wire, all put together from scratch.
Photo of Kerrie Stanley by Jay Donohue.
What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
Anything plastic, so apart from the thermoplastic there's acrylics as well, things that have got a bit of malleability. And leather of course. Leather is timeless, transseasonal. Whatever I can find that’s interesting really, I like to shop anywhere.
Kerrie, what would you say motivates you to do what you do?
The absolute pleasure I get out of creating. That’s the bottom line, and the relationships I get to build with people. The level of trust my regular clients now give me from the outset. They know that the design process might change along the way, but they believe in me to do what I know best. And that’s what I love about it.
And in addition to the bespoke millinery, you offer a hat hire service?
Yes! My other business, Designer Hat Hire, was the first business of its kind to provide beautiful headpieces for temporary hire, making millinery more accessible. It works really well, there are about 60 pieces available for hire at any one time.
I have lots of big ideas for the future on how to take it further. There are races run all around the country, all year round. I have even been looking at how during the Ascot Races in the UK, millinery hire is available on the day for big race events. How great would that be?
With racing season again upon us, do you have any advice for choosing a statement headpiece?
My advice on this is, especially if you’re not used to wearing hats, is to try lots of pieces on first. You really have to be comfortable, you have to own a hat. And what you think doesn’t suit you, may in fact do so. If you’re unsure, do go and visit a professional milliner. They can go through a consultation process, and look at options based on your face and body shape, complexion etc.
If you see a piece you absolutely love and can’t stop thinking about, get it and then work your outfit around it. But if you’re having something made, its a lot easier to make to the outfit.
What does a regular work day look like for you?
It can be varied. So, my head is a bit like a GPS on a daily basis, constantly re-routing. I can be quite disciplined though which is vital, like this morning – I had to get up super early to make my headpiece before I went to this breakfast. Set the alarm, got up, did it. I had to be purpose driven.
Two mornings a week I do ABC News Breakfast, so that’s an alarm call at 3:15am, at work at 4am, and we go to air at 6am. Yesterday I had a big make up job on too, so I had 9 make-up clients to do. I finished around 6 in the evening. Shattered.
My work is really varied. I also teach hair and make-up, so can be flexible depending on my schedule. I can be a bit of a workaholic. It doesn’t normally stress me out, but now I am actually living with somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The benefit of that is we are both creative, so we can sit and create together.
Kerrie you have a great look, how important is fashion, and style to you personally?
Look, it doesn’t rule my life, but I like to look good. Now I think this stems from my boarding school days, but I am happy wearing the same thing day in day out. If I like the look of it, then I’ll wear it all the time. Or go and buy multiples of it. I’m a bit like Steve Jobs really. And if you can’t buy it again, I recommend taking what you have and getting it re-made by somebody. I got these pants I’m wearing from a no-name shop in Wagga. I love them. They flatter me in all the right places. Fashion has to suit your body type and personality. You have to be comfortable to look good. Not trend driven. Especially in our demographic.
What inspires you the most about living and working in Melbourne?
Well it’s the home of the Melbourne Cup, so that’s a big thing. I think, just the type of people that live here really, there’s so many different demographics, so many different cultures and lifestyles. And it’s just open, vibrant. There’s a vibrancy about Melbourne that people just get into. They get excited by things. At the moment they get excited when the sun comes out. And it’s a really supportive city, creatively.
Kerrie Stanley is one of Australia’s most awarded milliners, offering a bespoke service for a truly individual creation, and a range of ready-to-wear headpieces via website below, or for hire via designerhathire.com. A multi-faceted talent, Kerrie is also a hair stylist and make-up artist with over 20 years experience in the fashion and commercial industries.