Vintage inspired hats!
“If I was a woman, I would be dressed in the same thing for a month and just change my hat and gloves. Maybe my shoes too; yes, I see what you mean but, really, it’s jewels that change an outfit.” Manolo Blahnik
Any lady or vintage vixen should not be seen without a hat and gloves (you can read about the secret etiquette of gloves here!) and as it can be challenging at times to find a true vintage hat of the right size, colour and in great condition, the only alternative is finding the perfect vintage-inspired hat with few minor conditions attached. It has to be of course hand made with fastidious care and with the right adornments. It must carry my favourite tilt style hats and must breath the spirit of 1930s and 1940s designs. Is it even possible to find such a brand which would stand up to the challenge and match my capricious wants? The answer is yes, thanks to the milliner extraordinaire who creates the most incredible vintage-inspired hats, that will go with every ensemble, and my latest discovery Allginnedup brand founded by Isabelle Alexia Nguyen!
“My name is Isabelle Alexia Nguyen. I am a self-taught milliner and have been making hats and headpieces for about 9 years. I do not have an educational background in the Arts, although my intention was to pursue Set Design or Costume Design. Instead, my educational background is Sociology with a focus on Gender and Sexuality. While it was fulfilling, I found myself devoid of a creative outlet. I found refuge in the art of millinery, where creativity, working with my hands and fashion all come together. Those familiar to me know that I have collected and have worn vintage for almost 30 years. However, I am not a vintage purist by any means. I often mix my wardrobe that dates between 1900s to1980s. I would say that playful and quirky best describe my style, though most times, I gravitate towards darker pieces. I am often told, and am aware, that it seeps through my hats and headpieces as well.”
Dominique de Merteuil: How did Allginnedup come about?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: It all started with me wanting to have hats/headpieces of my own to wear, but not seeing any that truly spoke to me. I took it upon myself to create my own pieces. I started trying to master the smaller pieces: fascinators and cocktail hats. My imagination led to me creating so much more; I ended up with more hats I could store. In 2010, a dear friend suggested I open an Etsy store to showcase my work. I was reluctant to do so, thinking no one would respond to them. The store quickly gathered a following. Many showed interest and in a small time frame, I had many commissions to work on and create. Playing around with composition was gratifying, but I quickly grew bored of the flat circle/teardrop bases. That led me to work on larger pieces, exploring the creation of different crown and brim forms. So here I am today, still imagining and creating.
Dominique de Merteuil: What’s involved in the creative process of making a hat?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: All my headpieces are a part of me. They are manifestations of the intangible: my thoughts and feelings experienced. I suppose one can say it is my way of storytelling. Visuals or ideas for my hats will arise from a feeling or response to things around me. I could be listening to a song and a lyric will conjure a visual(s). Same goes for reading, or simply waking to melancholy. Such experiences are often accompanied with visuals. For instance, a brief moment of melancholy would conjure a visual of a downward swoop. That could manifest itself into the flow of a brim or even the composition of a feather arrangement. Immense anger could bring on a visual of sharpness, translated to lines. Visuals and ideas are often disjointed and incomplete; it could be anything from a color, to a movement, to a shape.
This process is one of gratification and I find it immensely therapeutic, as it’s just me, the fabric, the block and steam. Wouldn’t it be exciting to tell you something fabulous like I am donned in a silk vintage gown sipping wine and listening to music while making a hat in a studio? But that is furthest from the truth. My workspace may seem unconventional and undesirable to others, but it is my sanctuary. It is the only environment that is conducive to my creativity, as I’ve tried every other setup to no avail. My sanctuary: a dim room filled with my vintage furniture and collectibles and a single bed where I sit and do all my designing and blocking. It is always a session of silence, staring, and blocking/shaping. The only sound that is present is the humming of the steamer. Most times, I will start off blocking on a crown block to establish the crown. Once the crown is fully set, I free form the brim. I will shape and shape and shape until it feels “right”.
Dominique de Merteuil: Could you advice what type of hat would be suitable for someone with round, oval or square face shape?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: While there are many guides out there, I personally disagree with all of them. Guides do serve a practical purpose, as it can provide someone with a good baseline to work off of. However, I truly believe one could wear any hat and look beautiful in it. It’s like anything else with fashion; if you can feel good in it and own it, it’s perfect. To strictly follow a guide is to succumb to another person’s ideology on what beauty is. That’s no fun! One should base beauty on one’s own ideology. No exceptions.
Dominique de Merteuil: What inspired you to start making hats based on 1940s designs?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: Throughout WWII, there was much rationing, but this didn’t seem to compromise fashion. In fact, a lot of creativity emerged and was evidenced in the hats during this time. Because materials for hats were not rationed, there was an abundance of feathers, veils, baubles, etc. Women were able to create hats using these embellishments to dress up their plain utility silhouette. I am inspired by the wave of creativity during this time, as there were no boundaries to a hat’s shape or style. To me, this movement of “making pretties” during a restrictive and harsh time speaks to me. It is much like how art, yesterday and now, emerges and is used as a form of expression to societal matters. The designs I come up with are era inspired, not so much an authentic representation of the millinery of the era. I also have a personal interest in mourning fashions, customs and traditions and have incorporated elements of the Victorian era in my headpieces. It was and is considered a forgotten art/tradition I wish to preserve and celebrate in my pieces.
Dominique de Merteuil: What would your advise be for a first time hat buyer? What mistakes to avoid when buying a hat?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: With full conviction, I will say that the gravest mistake is to buy something that doesn’t speak to you 100%. Avoid buying something because of a trend. Trends come and go, and while your aesthetics may also change like trends do, it is always best to wear something that solely speaks to you.
Dominique de Merteuil: Who do you design for? Who are your clients?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: All the pieces I make are designed for me initially, as each component and attribute is through my eyes and hands. However, the intention is to put them out there and hope they speak to others the same way they speak to me. My clients have come from different places, but one commonality I have noticed among them is their love and appreciation for art and storytelling. The best feedback I get from my clients is when they share their response to the hat’s story. It’s always great to be told your hats are amazing, aesthetically. But when someone comes back to you and shares their intimate response/feelings on how the hat spoke to them…. that is priceless.
Dominique de Merteuil: What’s in the future for you and your brand?
Isabelle Alexia Nguyen: Allginnedup just finished its series of hats called “Nocturnes”. This series is comprised of only four pieces, but they are the darkest pieces made to date. Allginnedup’s earlier pieces were fun, whimsical, and bright. As years progressed, Allginnedup’s pieces got darker and darker, it seems. I simply cannot fight this pull towards a darker aesthetic. (as they say, once a goth, always a goth)
I am unsure of Allginnedup’s future. What I am sure of is that I will continue to create and tell stories through my pieces until I can go no longer. My aim was never to make a living from this. What is important is that I continue to express and create, as that is the meaning of being alive to me. While sharing this journey with others by having my creations speak to their very essence.