Startup Diaries: Decadent Millinery From the Scottish Highlands
The NextWomen Fashion & Retail Theme.
When I was a little girl, my parents owned a hotel in the Scottish Highlands, where I grew up. My most prominent memory from that time was the tartan pillbox hat that my mother prescribed to me as uniform, to accompany my role as bell girl.
Growing up in and around the hotel, it must have come as quite a shock when I joined the army at 17 as a trainee nurse. Having a mixed heritage (mother is Chinese, father is Scottish) I was fortunate to have been brought up with a mixture of cultures and this only fuelled my passion for adventure and travel. During my time in uniform I met my husband, Doug, an Australian Naval Officer and we settled in Australia.
Finding myself in Sydney and pregnant with my daughter Kitty, we purchased a Federation period house in which my husband and I renovated. This encouraged me to tap into my creative side and instead of me picking up my Clarinet, I picked up a sewing needle.
I began mending clothes and making dresses at home. My mother had always spent hours sewing clothes and creating the most incredible things with her hands, I’m sure some of her motherly ways must have rubbed off on me! One afternoon I stumbled into a hat-making workshop in Sydney, which really kick started my passion for millinery.
There’s only so much you can do with clothes, and hats have so much more depth.
Hats are unique in fashion in their expression – they capture something more free-hand and individual than clothes can, and I love that about them.
Before long I found myself enrolled in Ultimo College studying millinery and embarking on an entirely new adventure. I have a really addictive personality, and was spending hours pulling apart vintage hats, and working out how they fit together.
After two years at college I started attending fashion events, particularly hat making workshops. It was through this that I met Neil Grigg, Australia’s answer to Philip Tracey. Neil has a fearsome reputation as a perfectionist and quite a force in fashion. At the workshop he asked several budding milliners to make a turban style hat; he even mocked me in front of the entire class on my choice of fabric, before I had begun to style a hat. When the class had finished, he said that he was impressed with what I had made, so I told him ‘I’m coming to work for you’. My gamble paid off, showing that fortune really does favour the bold!
It was with his guidance that I really started to bloom creatively. Working alongside such a talented milliner really encouraged me to try bigger and better designs, as well as learning from his years of experience in fashion.
As well as being more and more noticed among people from Sydney, the fashion world began to take more notice of my styling. As well as being featured in numerous newspapers and magazines, my hats caught the eye of Sydney fashionistas, culminating in me being named the Milliner of Sydney at Royal Randwick, one of the most prestigious racing and society event on the Australian calendar.
After a fantastic few years in Australia, Doug and I decided to move back to the Highlands so that my parents could watch Kitty grow up, and form a closer bond. I was reticent to do so at first, afraid that moving from such a buzzing metropolis to the Highlands of Scotland would be a culture shock, and there would be little demand for a young milliner.
Despite my fears, my never-say-die attitude took over and I began attending wedding fairs throughout Scotland.
It amazed me that Scottish people really pull out all the stops for events, putting weeks if not months into planning outfits for special occasions. It almost seemed like the Highlands were made for millinery, as to this day I haven’t been to a Scottish wedding without seeing at least the mothers of both groom and bride wearing some form of headdress – I was inundated with business!
My business ties in so well with this approach to special occasions as all that I do is so bespoke, and I spend four or five hours conducting consultations really getting to know each customer inside-out. As well as discussing styling, I really like to get to know each customer as the nature of my work is so tailored and individual. My aim is to provide a really thorough service that creates a makeover both inside and outside, changing each customer’s appearance as well as their confidence.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my start in millinery, and will post again next month!
Born to Scottish and Chinese parents, Mimi Theobald was brought up in Scotland but then moved to Australia where she started an apprenticeship with renowned milliner Neil Grigg. Within months she was named ‘Milliner of Sydney’. Having moved back to Scotland, Mimi’s designs now regularly grace the pages of Scottish fashion and style magazines, she writes a regular fashion column and she has started to gain a lot of interest from various TV production companies. Mimi has also collected numerous awards including the much coveted ‘Style of the Downs’ at Epsom Derby 2012, and came third in a prestigious competition for 500 international milliners at Royal Ascot in 2010.
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