When milliner Tierre Taylor looks at impressionistic paintings of gardens and bouquets, tranquility washes over her. “It’s almost like a sense of femininity, a sophisticated yet relaxed beauty,” she says. “I love the soft, abstract nature of the paintings, but that there’s a lot of colour involved.” With her spring/summer collection, Taylor aims to replicate her physical and emotional response to the paintings, while drawing from the artists’ vibrant colour palate.
It’s fall, and Taylor is in her Toronto studio surveying seven hats at various stages of completion, some part of her new collection, others custom creations. She looks at images of Renoir’s Spring Bouquet and Reading in the Garden by Richard Emil Miller for inspiration. “I’m experimenting with shape,” she says, pointing out a Panama straw piece boasting a tall crown and a medium brim. She is considering turning some scraps into floral embellishments to create an impressionistic look. Every piece is meticulously hand-stitched and finished with precious supplies such as feathers, pearls, and ribbons.
Before moving to Toronto in 2014, Taylor created works for theatre companies and produced collections under her first label, Tierre Joline, while living in Victoria. Today, her work is still influenced by her West Coast roots (she was born in Hope); she speaks of longing for the ocean and incorporating a wave into one piece as a tribute to home. Taylor previously worked in other textile arts before taking a course in millinery and falling in love with it. “I discovered that hats have such a playful nature as well as a functional component,” she says. “When you put one on, it can literally transform your presence, and that was so exciting for me because I hadn’t come across an accessory or a piece of work that had that same impact. I love using fine materials and the sculptural aspect of millinery. When I was able to start creating these pieces, I just found such joy in them.”
Taylor has only recently been able to commit herself to millinery full time thanks to a fortuitous encounter. In February 2015, she was approached by Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York at Penn Station in Manhattan. He complimented her vintage-inspired chestnut cloche, as many often do, and invited her to tell her story. “I wish I could sell my hats unapologetically,” she confided in him. “Whenever someone compliments my hat, I only say: ‘Thank you.’ I wish I was bold enough to say: ‘Here I am. This is what I do. And you can have one too.’” The quote and photo appeared on the popular portrait photography blog and were shared widely through social media. On Facebook alone, the post has received nearly 200,000 likes. At the time, Taylor was unfamiliar with Stanton’s work, and he shared with her his story of moving to New York to chase his passion of photography. “It was very encouraging to hear that following one’s dreams and putting oneself out there is definitely worth the risk,” says Taylor.
“I love using fine materials and the sculptural aspect of millinery. When I was able to start creating these pieces, I just found such joy in them.”
Pursuing high-end millinery is indeed risky. Milliners have to compete with mass-market, factory-made headwear and, as Taylor says, “We’re living a very comfortable and casual style now. It’s not a hat world.” Still, she persists.
“Perhaps the most popular phrase in reference to couture millinery today is ‘dying art’. I will never agree with it,” says renowned New York-based milliner Anya Caliendo, who designs hats for Lady Gaga and has taught countless designers, including Taylor, in her atelier courses. “With so many dedicated, passionate, incredibly talented master milliners working in the world today, I think we, as a trade, are in fantastic shape.”
Caliendo describes Taylor’s work as elegant and chic, and says she has achieved what many milliners have not: a signature style. “Her designs are relevant, they have a unique combination of what I call ‘yesterday, today, and tomorrow,’” she says. It’s Taylor’s perseverance that makes her stand out and succeed, claims Caliendo, who recalls her student struggling with the creation of a turban hat and breaking into tears of frustration (as many students do when working on the challenging style). Incidentally, on this day, Taylor is sporting her “current obsession”: a fine-wool plaid turban with a large 1940s-style knot. “What amazed me the most is how hard she pushed herself through the difficulties of this specific hat,” recalls Caliendo. “The result was incredible. It was a victory one never forgets.”
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