Do you know any milliners? Do you even know a milliner is? It sounds like a profession you'd find in, I don't know, the 1900's? But it's 2017, and C-U native Britt Von Decker is bringing her extraordinary talents as a milliner, or hat designer, to town tomorrow in the form of a trunk show at Rumours Hat Shoppe in Champaign. I had the opportunity to ask Von Decker about her unique profession, her inspirations, and what she's bringing to share with trunk show attendees.
Smile Politely: I have to say, you are the first milliner I’ve interviewed, and I’d love to know what inspired you to get into this profession.
Britt Von Decker: I can't say that surprises me. There aren't many of us out there anymore! I guess it all started with a general interest in fashion, but hats in particular. I've always loved hats, but the one-size-fits-all hats from chain stores never fit my small head. Shopping for vintage hats became a hobby of mine because people were smaller 50 years ago. I found a number of hats that fit me well, and I just loved the craftsmanship. Then in 2011 in Berlin, I was reading an issue of the magazine, The Gentlewoman, and I saw a black and white editorial with this beautiful woman in these striking hats, and that's when I thought, I'm going to make hats!
SP: What is your connection to Champaign Urbana?
Von Decker: I grew up in Champaign, left after high school, and then returned in my late twenties for a few years. That's when I met my now-husband, and since then I've relocated to Chicago.
SP: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Von Decker: I am really inspired by British and Australian millinery. They have so much fun with it! From the UK, I really love Awon Golding and Sophie Beale. Golding has an incredible sense of color and playfulness, and Beale is just sheer sophistication. And in Australia, all of the racewear (hats and headpieces worn to horse races, like the Kentucky Derby) is just out of this world! There are so many milliners there, and the styles are constantly evolving. That being said, to be successful I really have to practice restraint because the market is so different in the States. Lots of women are wearing men's hats, so I try to borrow elements from those styles while still maintaining a certain femininity. My most recent collection was inspired by a long time interest in the Southwest, and the hats in Dior's Cruise 2018 collection were certainly a catalyst.
SP: Hats seem like such a niche market. Who do you typically have in mind when you are designing?
Von Decker: My business started out as bridal accessories. Soon after my launch, I started releasing seasonal collections, and my look has been evolving ever since. Initially, I was designing for a romantic, vintage woman. Now I design for a more modern woman, someone who is confident in their style. I lived in LA for a few years, and it definitely left its mark on me. The fashion there is so bold and unapologetic. People like to show you who they are. These days, wearing a hat can seem like such a statement, but when you mix it with the right pieces, it feels very natural.
SP: What can people expect from your trunk show this Saturday?
Von Decker: Most of my Autumn/Winter collection will be in tow, along with some one-of-a-kind pieces that are not currently available on my website. And of course, free bubbly!
Interested in checking out Von Decker's designs? Stop by Rumours, at 75 E. Chester Street, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Enjoy a free drink and try on some some hats. If you can't make the show but would still like to see Von Decker's work, you can visit her website, www.brittvondecker.com.