Interview: Milliner Piers Atkinson

You’ve had quite a varied background. How did your career as a milliner come about?

It basically started as a way to ‘let off steam’ after I’d worked on a particularly frenetic publishing project; I’d set up a daily live newspaper at London Fashion Week with my friend Jenny Dyson and it nearly killed us!

The hats and headpieces were meant to be a nice arty project and were never considered (by myself) as something that could grow into a business.

Your creations have been snapped up by some of the world’s most out-there celebrities. Is there one person you’d really like to make a hat for and what would it be?

It would be fabulous to make a crown for a king or queen – any king or queen really; perhaps a less famous one from a pacific island paradise. It would be a good place to go for fittings!


What’s a headpiece no-no?

Oh! I think too many trims is a mistake – you don’t need feathers, flowers, quills, bows, AND veiling – edit the trims and make what you have dynamic!

What’s the most out-there creation you’ve ever come up with?

Probably the neon ones, as you have to plug them in with miles of cable… which means you can’t walk far. We did create a battery pack version though!

What’s the most time-consuming piece?

They are all quite time consuming, but the more hand-made the more intricate they become: dying to match, stripping feathers, tiny invisible stitches and so on.

The nail-art cherries from my SS14 collection took days – we only ever made one pair and it’s now gone to a collector.

What are the headpiece trends for the coming Spring Racing season?

I think the bigger brim is making a welcome come-back! It’s becoming more popular in the UK and also, from looking online, at the Middle Eastern and Australian races too.


That’s why we are doing a larger ‘swept’ brim in a stunning bright red for the Caulfield Cup and Art Series Hotels collaboration – where I’m using the artwork of Adam Cullen from The Cullen Hotel as inspiration!

Who do you most admire in the fashion world?

So many – Alber Elbaz continues to create beautiful, chic and innovative work after a lifetime of doing it, which is no easy feat; my friend Zandra Rhodes for sticking so passionately to her design ethic and Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett for using their status to bring attention to moral issues that affect us all.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

From everything – as I walk down the street I often think: ‘that would look fabulous on a head’. For example, today I saw a broken fan and all of the pieces looked amazing. Perfect for a summer headpiece.

Do you have a muse?

I have an imaginary ‘character’ who inspires each collection; the last two were for a little girl dreaming of fame, and then the celebrity of last season.

But real my muse is my sister; we miss each other (she has lived in Freemantle for a long time and had her baby boy in Australia!) and she still is a strong influence on me. She has great modesty, poise, strength, a sense of humour. A strong and ladylike woman. A formidable mix.

What’s your ultimate goal when you create a headpiece?

To wow myself! If I manage to do that then at least I have a chance to wow the rest of the world!

Piers Atkinson has been engaged as one of three milliners to create bespoke millinery pieces in collaboration with the Art Series Hotel Group to celebrate the 2014 Caulfield Cup Carnival. His pieces will be on display in The Cullen Hotel in Melbourne from early September in the lead up to October’s Carnival. For more information on the collaboration, please visit:

Image credit: Nathan Seabrook

Image credit: Nathan Seabrook

10 things you didn’t know about Coco Chanel

Nuns taught her everything she knows

Chanel’s sewing trade was taught to her by none other than the nuns who ran the Aubazine Abbey, an orphanage where she grew up. Both she and her sister Julia were sent there after their mother died.

Chanel would sing before she sewed

at age 18, Chanel was too old to remain at the Abbey and faced the choice of becoming a nun or heading out in to the world. In these early years she would sing at a Moulin-rouge style cabaret frequented by officers.

Coco is not her real name

It was in these formative years that Chanel, born Gabrielle, would acquire her nickname Coco from her male admirers who possibly chose the name based on the two popular songs with which they remembered her performances by, “Ko Ko Ri Ko”, and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”,

She lied about her age

For years Chanel claimed to be born in 1893 instead of 1883 – making her 10 years younger. Before you laugh, it may not have been for the reason you are thinking. It was apparently done to diminish the stigma that her humbler beginnings of poverty, illegitimacy and orphanhood bestowed upon her in 19th century France.

Before clothes, hats were her forte 

After meeting a rich ex-military officer and textile heir Etienne Balsan, Chanel became his mistress and moved in to his chateau in 1908, aged 23. It was their she began her interest in fashion designing and creating hats for rich acquaintances   as a diversion, which eventually led to her commercial venture – a millinery shop in Paris (financed by her lover of nine years a wealthy English Industrialist called Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel – a friend of Balsan, who sadly died in 1919)

Chanel revolutionised fashion for women

If it wasn’t for her looser designs  and relaxed style – achieved through the use of jersey that up until then had been used for men’s underwear – women might still be wearing restricting and uncomfortable corseted clothing. thankfully the generation of women loved her for it and so Maison Chanel was established at 31, Rue Cambon in Paris (which remains its headquarters even today). Becoming a fashion force to be reckoned with in Paris, thanks to her striking bob haircut and tan, the mother of modern style launched her own fragrance in 1922 – which remains popular the world over.

She closed up shop and became a nurse

World War II was a turbulent time for the designer. In 1939 she closed the doors to her shop in Paris and became a war-time nurse but after the war fled controversy surrounding her affair with a German officer and headed to Switzerland. In 1954 she would end this self-imposed exile and return to Paris to take on the men dominating the fashion industry – introducing pea jackets and bell bottoms.

Katherine Hepburn played Chanel in a broadway show

A broadway musical of Chanel’s life opened in 1969 with Hepburn taking on the role of the designer – we’re sure that she had Coco’s renowned unabashed confidence down pat.

We have her to thank for the LBD

In October 1926 Chanel unveils the Little Black Dress. Done in the ‘flapper’ style that marked the design of this era, Vogue anoints the LBD design “the frock that all the world will wear” – how right they were!

She  worked until her death

Having worked furiously to finish her latest couture collection, Chanel dies in 1971 aged 88. Two weeks after her death the ivory tweed suits and white evening dresses are sent to the runway and met with a standing ovation.

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