Millinery is having a moment

Milliner stays on top of fashion with what she calls her "little sculptures" designed for the head. Georgina Heffernan speaks with Lina Stein, one of Ireland's leading hat designers.

Georgina Heffernan: Did you always want to be a milliner?
Lina Stein: No, initially I wanted to be a sculptor but when I was 23, my mother suggested I do a course in millinery. It was something that I’d not even considered but the freedom and creativity it offered really grabbed my attention. I went to the first class and, after that, was totally hooked.

How did you get started in business?
I started off, initially, by selling in markets and boutiques, building the business up bit by bit. These days, I love to do commissioned pieces and have a thriving wholesale business. I operate from my studio in the west of Ireland and, from there, teach workshops in hat design, which have been immensely popular.

What's the inspiration behind your wonderful creations?
Inspiration can come from just about anywhere; texture, the weather, materials, shapes, sounds or the friends you have just met up with. Sometimes it is the colour of the ocean, other times it is the influence of designers before our time.

Who is your favourite milliner and why?
Currently it is Stephen Jones, because he is conventional yet avant-garde, he experiments with the new but respects time honoured traditions, he is frivolous and appreciates what hats do for the wearer - extends the personality! I’m also a huge fan of Lilly Dache and Elsa Schiaparelli for their humour and elegance.

How did you develop your taste and what inspires you today?
I developed my taste through a combination of my German / Australian background, and the influence of my parents, both of whom are intellectual and creative in different ways; they encouraged the creativity in me throughout my childhood and into my adult life. When I was a teenager, I never really followed fashion but had my own distinctive style, which always had a bit of an edge to it. That’s certainly come across in my designs, even today; they have an edge, a sense of humour to them.



What’s different about your creations?
I don't believe hats should be too serious; there is frivolity and elegance combined. I believe that I bring elements of the past into the present and use the traditional techniques to create modern lines. The finish of a hat is most important to me, I want to give the wearer the sense they are carrying something truly special.

Who do you envision wearing your pieces?
Everyone and anyone.

What have been your greatest challenges as a designer?
I live in the west of Ireland and although it’s a beautiful place to live, with a rugged landscape that can be so inspiring, the downside is that it can be very difficult trying to source materials; so I end up having to improvise a lot. The other big challenge that I face is one of isolation; millinery is creative and exciting but much of my work is spent alone.

Because of the solitary nature of my profession, I have to make a big effort to form bonds socially. The courses I run in millinery have proved to be a fantastic outlet because it really connects me with people in the community – creative people who love working with their hands! I also thoroughly enjoy to going to big trade fairs in cities like Paris, it can be very inspiring.

What is the favourite piece you’ve created and why?
Generally, it’s my latest piece. Sometimes, I don’t want to let them go I get so attached to them!