WORK|LIFE|ME: An Interview With Royal Milliner Rosie Olivia
Our WORK|LIFE|ME series looks at the inspiring lives of some of the UK’s most creative female entrepreneurs. From solo enterprises to large, international brands how these businesswomen manage to juggle the balance of work, life and home. In this latest feature, we interview royal milliner Rosie Olivia, who counts Zara Phillips and Pippa Middleton amongst her clientele.
Talk me through the process of creating a bespoke hat?
The client will book an appointment to see me at my London showroom. They are advised to bring along their outfit and accessories or the best scenario would be to come with hat first and outfit after! They try on all the different styles of hats from the current collection on show. We look at the hat shapes that suit the client’s face, then discuss the trimming options and the colours that would complement the outfit.
It’s a fun experience, especially when you need a hat for a special occasion. I am brutally honest, if I don’t like a hat on the client I will tell them and I will help them find the right one. I always want my clients to look their best, as it’s my brand name on the line. Once a decision is made, a deposit is taken and then I begin making the hat. Once the hat is finished, usually this takes between 2-3 weeks, the client comes back to collect it and does not leave until they are 100% happy and they know how to fit the hat on properly.
Describe a typical day for you?
My day begins when I get woken up by Freddie, our puppy, at 6.30am. I go for a walk on Primrose Hill and think about the day ahead. Once home, coffee is on the go and I try to reply to all my emails to set me up for the day. I then go into my studio and that’s where the magic happens. There are many different stages of making a hat so I tend to work on several hats at one time. I could be blocking, stiffening, trimming or adding the final touches such as the linings, elastic and labels to a hat.
Client consultations then take place in the showroom which generally last 45 minutes per customer and then it’s a case of ordering the fabrics for their hats and then back to the studio to carry on making. Every day is different which is what I love and it’s never 9-5pm. I would like to think I am organised even though it’s still manic… I get why milliners are called mad-hatters!
How do you balance running the business with the creative/design side of the company?
It’s very tricky and sometimes I feel like I neglect some parts of running the business but I love what I do and I think that is important when running a creative business. I run the majority of my business solo. I find it really hard to switch off. If I am not making hats, I’m meeting clients and discussing their bespoke hats, posting on social media, speaking to press, working on my accounts, designing new collections or at an event. I produce two ready-to-wear collections a year (Autumn Winter & Spring Summer) so I tend to be constantly designing. I always have a pen and paper on me as you never know when a design will come to life.
How would you describe the style of your hats?
My hats are elegant, chic and very wearable. When designing hats, it’s all about the overall shape that is created with the hat base and trimming. I like to think that the hats I create have the right balance and contrast of colour and texture and that all the components complement each other and most importantly that the hats are wearable and stylish!
Where do you go to for creative inspiration?
I love to walk around new areas, visit exhibitions, wander around the shops and look at fashions from previous decades. A lot of the time a design will come in to play when I am in my studio, surrounded by colourful feathers, trimmings and millinery fabrics. I find it hard to sketch the ideas that I have in my head so I pin things together on a mannequin and voila.
How do you balance a demanding work life with a personal life?
I have found that being a milliner there are certainly busy and quieter months of the year. April to July is my busiest with the racing season at full swing. During this time I do find it hard to have a personal life but I don’t mind as it’s worth it when I go to Royal Ascot and see all my happy customers! It’s hard to switch off from the hat world but to me it’s very important to enjoy life as well as work.
What do you do to relax?
Open a bottle of vino!! Relax???? I tend to always be on the go at home! Holidays or when I am away from the studio is when I sit and relax!
Have there been any particular projects that really stand out for you?
I have been fortunate to be involved in some really exciting projects over the past six years.
Working with Ford was one of them. Being challenged to design a giant crown to literally crown the Ford Fiesta (pictured below), the number one car in the UK, was really fun. I designed a crown with a quilted leather headband and royal blue crown jewels and used an actual gear stick as the centre piece along with seat belt arches. I then worked with a talented team of designers, 3D scanners and carpenters to scale up my creation to Fiesta size.