Kate Betts Milliner

If you are going to a wedding, the races or just want to glam up for a night out, there is one name that should be at the top of your wish list - Kate Betts.

You may have come across this exciting Irish milliner unknowingly if you've ever been to the treasure chest that is Project 51 on Dublin’s South William Street.

The shop is filled with a selection of fantastic crafts by many of up-and-coming designers and Kate’s headwear is displayed proudly in the modern new accessories department.

Finalist at Hat Designer of the Year 2012 – in association with Premiere Classe, Kate Betts uses the time-honoured skills of the milliner to create these hand-made hats and headpieces from quality materials. Her hats have maximum elegance, optimum sauce – that’s just a little, not too much!

Georgina Heffernan caught up with the talented designer to find out a little more…

Georgina Heffernan: Did you always want to be a milliner?
Kate Betts: It’s funny, I knew I loved hats but it wasn’t until I actually started properly studying millinery that I remembered a purple wool aviator style hat with paisley satin binding that I designed when I was about eleven. I even cut the pattern for it myself. That’s difficult! There was a teal silk asymmetric hat too, and hat ‘photo shoots’ with my sister. My mum recently found a hat-shaped pin-cushion I made when I was even younger.
So perhaps I always did want to be a milliner, I just didn’t realise it!

What's the inspiration behind your creations?
I get really inspired just by having the materials in my hands. Just feeling how they respond to heat, steam and pressure. I also love fashion, of course. And then it can be very inspiring to work with a client - or working to a brief, it forces me to be even more creative in order to fulfil someone else’s requirements.

Who is your favourite milliner and why?
I have two favourites: Stephen Jones is the master! As well as his own collections, he designs for big fashion houses such as Dior & Louis Vuitton. He just nails it! He designs great hats and he always seems to capture the zeitgeist.

Madame Marie Claire Barban is the boss! She prototypes and produces for Stephen Jones as well as many other big designers and her own line, Cheri Bibi. Every new hat throws up a ton of new technical problems to solve and Marie Claire is just fantastic at that. She is passionate, generous and so incredibly skilled and talented.

Was it tough getting started in business?
Really tough! I will say, however, that since I started in millinery my hard work seems to be getting better results than it did before in other fields.

What trends are coming through in headwear for 2013?
The trend for richer surface texture in garments will be making it into my hats this Spring. Hats are continuing to get bigger, the Ascot ban on fascinators has ensured that. For A/W, the same; bigger, more textured. I think the fur hats we have seen on fashion forward heads this winter will become more mainstream. It’s all getting a little earthier and wilder.

What has been your greatest achievement in your career to date?
I don’t know about any great achievements yet, but what worked out great for me was entering the Hat Designer of the Year 2012 competition at Premiere Classe in Paris.

Getting to the finals, and being highly commended - I deduced that the judge, Marie Claire Barban of Cheri Bibi, liked my work. So I felt brave enough to ask her for an internship. She said yes, and that internship was my greatest millinery experience to date!
Oh, and I was very happy to sell a hat to the Attorney General, Maire Whelan recently. She’s a very stylish lady!

Describe your own personal style?
When we were kids, my brother and sister and I had a dressing up box. It was great! Now my wardrobe is my dressing up box - I like to create a persona or a story with an outfit. A little bit theatrical, always trying not to go too over the top!

Have you had to streamline your business as a result of the recession?
The opposite - I had to START my business because of the recession!

How has it impacted you and your peers in the fashion industry?
I’m just getting to know my peers in the fashion industry, they seem to be a resilient, resourceful, dynamic and determined bunch.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Learning new skills, both craft, business and interpersonal.

Where do you see the brand going in the future?
I want two arms to my business -
Right arm - year round occasion wear - I love working with mothers of the bride or groom, the brides themselves and race-goers to prepare them for their special occasions. I will continue to build in that area.
Left arm - A/W everyday wear, I see too many plain beanies out there! I want to push the envelope of what people will wear for an everyday winter hat. This is where I get to work with indigenous materials (all materials for occasion wear are imported) and to start exporting quality products made in Ireland.

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