If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I love to share the stories and personalities behind what’s featured here. Since I love to keep it local, a lot of those stories involve Creative Louisvillians but today’s feature involves an incredibly talented Californian milliner, Jill Courtemanche.
Jill and I connected over on Instagram over a shared love of hats, obviously for me, those of the Derby variety. It’s evolved into my styling a handful of her lovely pieces over the last week or so. Now that you’ve seen her work though, I wanted to share a little behind her process and get to know the woman behind the brim.
What drew me to Jill’s pieces are the classic nature and standout shapes. This wide-brimmed beauty was one of my favorites to wear and despite being a more classic black and white, it’s such a bold look. A lot of her pieces have that same impact. Now that summer’s on its way, I’m thinking I may need to invest in one of her Panama hats – like this one. Obsessed.
And after you get to know Jill, make sure to head over to her site where you can save 20% on any order with code LouWhatWear.
TALKING DERBY WITH MILLINER JILL COURTEMANCHE
* What inspired you to get into millinery?
I have been wearing (and loving) hats since I was a teenager. My first one was a men’s bowler hat that my brother gave me for Christmas when I was 12 or 13 years old, I still have it. I have a small head size and it was always hard for me to find great hats that fit me well. Flash forward a few years to college and I was studying design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and decided it would be fun to take a millinery class and learn to make myself cool hats. I knew after the first day that this was what I wanted to do so I stayed on an extra year and got an additional degree in Accessories Design with a specialization in Millinery.
* How long have you been creating hats and fascinators?
It has actually been about 20 years. After I finished school I went to work for Eric Javits for a bit and from there I apprenticed with Suzanne Newman a couture milliner who was on Madison Avenue in New York at the time. I worked as Suzanne’s assistant for 8 years and traveled all over the world learning the craft and working with major designers. It was a wonderful experience and really prepared me to launch my own line which I did in 2007.
* What is key to picking out the perfect hat?
I am a firm believer that the right hat picks you! Try them all on so you can figure out what you like and what doesn’t feel quite right. In reality, there are many hats that could work for your face shape and stature but the one that makes you smile is the one you should go with. You want to choose the one that feels like you so you are confident and the hat doesn’t wear you. You can always see it when a client finds the right hat, they stand a little straighter and their eyes light up.
* Fascinator or Hat?
Depends on the day and the outfit. I am 5’5” and my husband is 6’2. If I am going to an event with him I tend to go for a fascinator or a smaller profile hat so I am not craning my neck all day to talk to him. If it’s a day out with the girlfriends, it’s all about fashion and what feels right.
* What colors, trends, styles are big for you this season?
So far this Derby season I am doing a lot of nude and light colors which has been really fabulous and I have been playing around with two-tone straws so that there is a light color to the face which is great for pictures. I have also been experimenting with bringing some prints into the hats (gingham and polka dots) with custom flowers and printed straws. Of course, Derby always calls for lots of beautiful silk roses and feathers, the more the better!
* If someone is looking for a custom piece, what advice/tips would you give them when talking to a milliner?
Always starts with the hat shape, once you find the shape you are comfortable in it can always be customized to match your outfit. It’s also a good idea to bring your dress and accessories with you when you go try on hats so colors can be matched and you can really get a feel for the overall look.
* Who would you love to see in one of your creations?
Of course, it is always fun to see your hat on someone famous or at an amazing event but for me, it’s about women and their stories. I meet the most amazing women doing what I do and I love to be a part of their special occasions. I have clients for whom I made wedding hats and now I am making them hats for their children’s bat mitzvahs, I love that. I get to be a part of the meaningful events in people’s lives, the finishing touch on outfits that will always be remembered. It really doesn’t get better than that.