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Louise Macdonald – The Milliner

Name: Louise Macdonald
Occupation: Milliner
Years of Experience: 24

It’s the busiest time of the year for milliner Louise Macdonald, who can be found in her studio, located in the historic Nicholas Building, preparing for this year’s racing season. Colourful ribbons are in full stock, the sewing machine positioned by the window is buzzing away and clients are coming in and out collecting what will be the cherry on top of their perfect outfits. Macdonald takes this all in her stride – she is old hat at this (pun intended), with 24 years of experience creating unique headpieces for women to steal the show with.

It all began in England in the late 1980s when Macdonald began a short course in millinery. Her day job required little creativity and making hats provided her with the perfect creative outlet. She later specialised in costume millinery and was offered her first role as a qualified milliner in 1990 with a period costume company. During this time, she made hats for popular TV shows and films including the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice.

It was in 1995 that she returned home. “I knew in the long-term I wanted to be back in Melbourne,” she says. “I had also been working for the costume company in London for five years and if I was going to make the switch to freelance, it was now or never.” She was also aware of the wonderful opportunities for milliners in Melbourne as the annual Spring Racing Carnival always expects the crème de la crème of hats and head pieces to be paraded around the fields. Macdonald’s primary business is race wear and she starts preparing as early as February. Each year she creates a ready to wear range accompanied by one off pieces. She also loves to compete in the annual hat competitions at the Carnival and has previously won as high as 3rd prize. “You get the chance to push the boundaries in these competitions and there’s been a couple of occasions where I have been really proud of what I’ve done,” she says.

Having seen it all throughout the years, Macdonald says the races fashion has definitely changed. “When I first started, it was big hats and big square crowns, and now the pieces tend to be a lot smaller,” she explains. “There’s a new generation of people who go to the races and new members and that’s changed the sort of clients I get.” It’s not just the fashion that’s changed either, Macdonald says that new materials have also been introduced to the scene making it a lot more interesting to design with and that more and more people are starting to make their own fascinators and hats.

However, watching Macdonald at work shows the true expertise in the process. A more complicated design can take up to 3 days to execute. While some milliners plan with drawings, Macdonald is inspired by the materials she uses and designs as she sculpts. This is her favourite part of the process – creating movement in a piece through moulding it. She also loves collaborating with other artists and designers and has previously worked with the likes of Victoria Loftes and Hugo Boss. “They have different ideas and it’s nice to be taken in a direction you might not otherwise be taken in,” she says.

As for passing on some wise words to newcomers, Macdonald insists it’s as much about creating as it is about business. “You need to know how to run a business, especially the marketing side of it. Get a good education, I run short courses, but if anyone says they want to be a professional milliner, I direct them to the local TAFE course. You should also be setting the trend – make something new that no one’s ever seen before and fly with that,” she says.

Room 3, 8th floor, 37 Swanston Street
Melbourne, VIC
03 9650 1352

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