Stepping inside the French doors of Bonnie Evelyn Farmer’s Armadale studio, the first thing you notice are the pillar boxes stacked up high with hats. It’s the busiest season for milliners with the spring racing season upon us. Rolls of fabric, recently sourced from Paris, are propped against the wall. “The bold colours of this season inspire me,” she offers simply.
With a fashion diploma under her belt, but no formal millinery training, Farmer learnt her trade as a tailor for the Australian Defence Force, followed by a mentorship at The Essential Hat store in Prahran East. It is these experiences that have ingrained principles of precision and quality of workmanship in the young milliner.
Her eponymous label represents a fresh approach to millinery, which sees her experimenting with new concepts and materials and treating the client consultation process as a luxury experience. Her designs do not start off with a sketch, rather by playing with different combinations of fabrics, pinned together and then hand stitched. Throughout the design process Farmer prefers to fit these on the client’s head as it can look completely different than on a mannequin, “The initial consultation is followed by one or two fittings. The client also brings in her outfit and accessories, which makes designing a hat to suit much easier.” She also uses her website, featuring a ‘Model of the Month’ as a platform to cross promote current talent and “to show diversity in the Bonnie Evelyn aesthetic,” says Farmer.
Originally specialising in floral head-pieces weaved in wire and silk, nowadays you will find exotic fabrics such as Paris cloth and abaca being used frequently in Bonnie Evelyn’s designs, “Abaca, also known as ‘Ginsen’ has a thread in the weft and a straw in the warp, whilst Paris cloth is the same but the plant fibre is a lot softer,” Farmer explains. These fabrics can be manipulated to create amazing shapes. “I also use all sorts of straws like Para Sisal, Buntal, Panama and vintage straws to create a unique style.”
What makes Bonnie Evelyn Millinery unique is that she embraces free-form millinery as well as traditional millinery techniques such as blocking - making the shape of a hat on a wooden shape crafted especially for hat making. Though, Farmer stresses that it is the simpler designs that are harder to execute than ones with many embellishments and details, “In this case, it is all about simplicity, line and form, which need to be flawless otherwise the eye is immediately drawn to imperfections. Embellishments are handy when covering up minor deviations of original design” she explains.
Recently one of the young designer’s yellow flowered and feathered head-pieces placed in the finals at the International Summer Hat Festival ‘Estivales du Chapeau, France and just last week she won the Yellowglen Vintage Hat Competition with another canary yellow creation. She will be a contender for the invite-only Millinery Award at Oakes day along with the other milliners in the Millinery Association of Australia.