'Meet the maker' interview

Iona Montgomery Millinery



When did you decide that you wanted to become a milliner?
I decided when I was 14 years old. I remember cutting an image of the ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ out of a magazine and that was it.  I didn’t tell any of my friends for years as I didn’t want anyone to copy me!

What was your journey into millinery?

Although I wanted to make hats from a young age, I studied French at university. As part of my degree, I was required to spend a year abroad and was offered an internship at Maison Michel in Paris. It was hard work as not only was I trying to learn how to make hats but I was also trying to understand what everyone was saying! 

After university, I began work experience with Philip Treacy in London which led to a full time position. I then enrolled in the HNC Millinery course at Kensington and Chelsea College, now Morley College.

Alongside producing my own designs, I began to work part time at Stephen Jones Millinery in the Model Department. After four years, I decided to focus solely on my own business.

What is your process when designing a hat?

I begin with selecting a theme; this can be anything from a poem to a city. I then stick visual references in my sketchbook and make sure to leave enough space on each page so that I can draw a minimum of five designs. Once I have selected the designs I want to make, I will then think about materials.
Iona Montgomery Millinery sketchbook
How do you choose the palette and fabrics?

For my own collection, I tend use a neutral palette with a few accents of colour. My bespoke commissions tend to be in brighter colours to complement a specific outfit so this means that I get to make a nice range of colours throughout the season.

In terms of fabrics, I like to use natural materials as much as possible such as straws and feathers which are used traditionally in millinery.

How much do current trends inspire your designs?

I find that hats tend not to be dictated by fashion although certain styles definitely become à la mode and get revisited, such as the headband this past year. However, I do look at current trends during the design development process as they can inspire new shapes.

This is also the case for colour palettes as I like to be aware of what colours or patterns will be forecast for the season prior to making a new collection. 
Who is your typical client?

My typical client tends to be someone who needs a hat for a specific occasion and perhaps doesn’t wear hats very often.  I love being able to advise these customers on what styles best suit them and reassure them that they will feel happy and confident when wearing their hat.
What does your average working week look like?

Ideally, I would spend the whole week designing and making hats but obviously this can’t always be the case! 

I try to organise the days so that I spend an equal amount of time focusing on both brands as well as dedicating time throughout the week for fittings, marketing and design development. This can be quite hard as things pop up last minute which require my attention, but I always try to start the week with good intentions!

What have you been working on during lockdown?

Normally at this time of year I would be working on bespoke commissions but as everything is being postponed, I am using this time to developing new styles under the Monty brand, including a ‘bakerboy’ and a beret.  

Early on in lockdown, I made a range of limited edition turbans using surplus fabrics with 100% of profits going to ‘NHS Charities Together’ which supports NHS staff and volunteers. I also took part in the ‘Make a Visor, Save a Hero’ initiative, making PPE visors for frontline NHS workers. 
Iona Montgomery Millinery Limited Edition turbans for NHS
Do you have a favourite hat that you've created?

I love all the bespoke commissions as they feel so personal - it’s hard to pick a favourite! I really like making variations of Octavia as it is such an elegant shape and works with so many different trims.

When working for Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones, I made hats for amazing events and catwalk shows. My favourite Philip piece was an Egyptian style headdress worn by Madonna for the Super Bowl in 2011 - it took two of us three days to make. When working for Stephen, I loved making an oversized hat for Giles Deacon made entirely from hand dyed feathers.
Iona Montgomery Millinery meet the maker interview
And finally, can you share some of your best hat styling tips?

Whether you are looking for a formal hat or a more casual style, the best thing to do is to try on as many different styles as you can. If you don’t often wear hats, this will enable you to work out which styles best suit you and whether you feel confident when wearing them. I believe that there is a hat for everyone, and it tends to be the first one that’s tried on!

I would also recommend tying hair back when wearing a formal hat as it helps frame the face and of course shows off the hat!

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