This interview was conducted by Michelle Genders and originally posted on the Australian Wandarrah team website.
Let’s get to know Tanith from Tanith Rowan Designs. She’s a talented and experimental milliner making unique hats that range from vintage reproductions to costume to everyday wear. Tanith opened up about the place where she lives and the reasons that she loves to make hats:
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
I live in Mount Victoria, and I’ve lived there for about 6 years, but I lived elsewhere in the Blue Mountains before, on and off since the beginning of high school.
Can you describe the landscape of the place where you live?
The upper mountains are such a stunning place to live. A short walk in practically any direction from my house can find you an amazing bush walk and stunning views of cliff faces and rolling valleys beneath. It’s really lush and green and full of fabulous plant and animal life.
Could you recommend one or two must see places for someone who is visiting the Blue mountains for the first time?
Well you would have to take in a bushwalk with fabulous views, but there are many to choose from there. Sunset rock in Mount Victoria is a good (and easy to get to) view. And I’m biased towards the upper mountains but I would suggest a stop in Blackheath for some village atmosphere, vintage shopping, and a choice of excellent cafes.
What do you like most about where you live?
I enjoy the lifestyle. I am very adapted to the mountains and visiting cities just makes me anxious. It’s quiet here, but things are still happening, just at a less frantic pace. And of course I love the plants, and the birds and kangaroos that visit the garden.
Can you tell us one or two of the things that are ‘happening’ in the mountains?
I guess I just meant that new things are always starting. The mountains seems to be full of people with big ideas and lots of energy. I love seeing new small businesses open up, and there are always markets and festivals going on.
Tell me about the hats, whimsies and veils that you sell, how did you come to practising millinery?
I guess I’ve long had an interest in vintage and historical fashion, and that was what led me to millinery in the end. I played around with making a few dodgy hats for fancy dress costumes, and then I followed that rabbit down a hole and here I am still exploring it.
Where do you make the pieces that you sell?
I work from home, in my “studio” (read: spare bedroom), or sometimes on the couch or at the dinner table! I have a toddler so working from home is the best option for me, it means I can work whenever I manage to find the time.
What do you like most about millinery?
Honestly I mostly love that I haven’t gotten sick of it or bored with it. There is always more to learn and I still enjoy learning and trying new things. What I love about the process is the feeling of shaping something with my hands, and then I love seeing the result being worn and making someone happy.
What is the most difficult part about millinery?
Like all making I suppose, it can be really frustrating to try and get the materials to do what you want them to! Sometimes when you are just making something of your own design, you just go with the flow, but for a custom order with a specific look in mind, it can drive me nuts trying to get it just right!
What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment with?
I would have to say hat blocks. I love shaping materials over the wooden blocks and some of them are also just lovely pieces of art in their own right.
What is your favourite kind of material to work with?
My personal favourite is probably felt. I like that you can shape it with blocks but also work on it in a free form way with your hands. It’s very sculptural. There are so many ways to use felt, so I love that versatility too.
Your Etsy about page makes a quite provocative statement: “I am here to make you realise that, actually, you ARE a hat person.” We have actually met ‘in real life’ so I’m wondering – could you point me towards the hat/whimsy/veil that you think would suit me the most out of those in your shop?
What I’m trying to combat with that statement is the tendency some people have to make that blanket statement “Hats don’t suit me” or “I’m not a hat person”. It’s usually based on just a few attempts at wearing hats. I think there are hats for everyone. Hats haven’t been as much in fashion in recent decades as they were in the past, and one of the downsides has been this lack of exposure to different styles. Different people will suit different hats, and sometimes you have to try on quite a few to find out which ones are right for you. So I enjoy making hats of all kinds to provide those alternatives.
I think I would want to observe more of your personal style to make a confident call or suggest what you might actually wear on a daily basis, but from a purely aesthetic perspective, I think that my Michelle Tilt hat would (amusingly!) suit your face really well.
Ha that is funny – I had a look at the Michelle Tilt and yes I can see what you are talking about – I think it would work 🙂
Yes that is so true about women in the past being more comfortable with hats. Could you share a particular woman or women who has really pulled that off?
I suppose the ones I was first influenced by were the classic Hollywood stars, people like Audrey Hepburn, Joan Fontaine and Ginger Rogers all wear hats really well. But even the extras in the movies will be wearing amazing things, and when you look at old photos of everyday people they wear hats beautifully too.
I’ve noticed that in your shop there are hats inspired by fashion across different decades of the 20th century. What’s the thread that runs through these designs/interest/inspirations/pieces?
I guess the appeal for me across all the decades is a bit of the lost glamour and fun of dressing. We are often so afraid of making too much of a statement with even a simple hat, and women in the past were obviously not! You get these beautiful and sometimes wild creations worn for every day shopping or work and I think that’s wonderful.
What are you working on at the moment – could you give us a teaser?
The big new project is that I’m going to try my hand at sewing patterns for vintage style hats. It’s a very steep learning curve for me, but a direction I’ve been considering for a while and I feel I have to give it a go!
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Tanith. It’s been great to hear more about your chosen craft of millinery and your home in the Blue mountains. As I’m lucky enough to happen to live here too, I hope we can catch up for a coffee in one of those excellent cafes sometime soon.