Fiona is not only a regular Belle Armoire customer but like us runs a successful fashion business. Making the most beautifully unique hats you will ever see, with styles ranging from straw hats, soft felt fedoras and that simple elegant cap that you can wear all year round.
Brought up in the Central West, Fiona knows the region well and also works as the Creative Director for Fresh Fodder on the side. Her love for fashion has been a major part of her life, studying fashion design and illustration at the prestigious Whitehouse Institute in Sydney, Fiona has brought her millinery skills to Orange which has given local women a chance to own that special handmade piece. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Fiona and how she became the milliner she is today.
You’re one clever woman! How did you decide that you wanted to be a milliner?
I studied Fashion Design and Illustration at the Whitehouse Institute in Sydney with a plan to work in clothing. I found pretty quickly I was much more interested in accessories and when we were offered Millinery as a subject in our graduating year, everything just clicked for me. I spent the next six years honing my skills with Neil Grigg Millinery, working in every area of the industry – costume, theatre, corporate, ready to wear and high end fashion Millinery.
Are you originally from Orange?
No, but I am originally from the Central West (just down the road in Forbes) We moved our family to Orange 13 years ago because we believed it was the perfect place to raise our family and it was a great base to support both our businesses.
We have a saying in our house that Orange is “big enough but small enough, close enough but far enough”. For us it’s the perfect mix of regional living with great schools, restaurants, fashion and food without the hustle of city living. We love the four distinct seasons and the increasingly diverse community.
Do you have a favourite fabric that you work with?
I work with a wide range of materials including straw, wool felt, fur felt, leather and a broad range of fabrics and blocking materials. I love working with silk – dupion and organza are my all time favourites. I use it for flower making and trimming for hats. It has a beautiful soft lustre and is fabulous to dye.
I spent six years working with Dinosaur Designs who were incredibly inspiring for their creative drive and their work ethic. They inadvertently showed me how to blur the lines between that great catch cry of “work/life balance”. In terms of design, I am driven by quality, natural materials and clean classic designs. I push for style rather than fashion as the signature look in my work, and integrity and individuality in design is very important to me and what I produce.
Roughly how many hats do you make in a week?
There used to be real peaks and troughs in my workload as the seasons shifted and as customers started to understand the sort of work I could produce, but I am pretty consistently busy all year round these days. That said, some weeks are crazy and others are a bit better paced. I would say on average I make 15-20 hats a week.
So many passions, so little time! First up its family – my husband Max and my three boys are the reason I get up each day. Art is a major love – I try to visit and support exhibitions and I love to get to the local and major city galleries. I am a hack photographer but love having a go. And of course, I have to say food – I also contribute to our other business – Fresh Fodder – as the Creative Director. Helping drive the growth of that business which is my husbands childhood dream has been a pretty important.
In terms of cooking, I would rate myself as a hit and miss cook – I don’t love to use a recipe so things turn out a little different each time- but you will find me baking most Sunday mornings.
Where would we find you on a day off?
They’re rare at the moment! Being in business can be very consuming at times, especially when you’re a one man show and have to drive every aspect yourself. I love to head out to the lake with the boys (we have three boys – Finnegan 17 years, Darcy 13 years, Oliver 9 years). I also like to walk – it is my mental saviour so you would probably find me on a path somewhere.
What is the secret to juggling life as a mum and your business?
Oh I am not sure I know what the answer is here!?! We have two businesses and three kids so I have had to work at being organised and good at managing my time (neither come naturally) I try my best to be as open and available to the boys as I can be. I try to listen more than I talk. There is not one simple answer here – some days I get it right and some days I get it epically wrong, but accepting that it is a juggle is probably the key point to note.
The Elliatt Knitwear this season is beautiful – I love a good jumper or cardigan to snuggle into on a cold day, but I could walk out of the shop on any given day with just about any of the labels in my shopping bag and be a pretty happy customer.