Having grown up in Dublin, Ireland, milliner Geraldine Purcell, now a resident of Warren, was informed by her city’s cosmopolitan buzz. She spent time in its museums and art galleries where she found artistic inspiration in Dublin’s history, old photographs, and the fashions, techniques and textiles of bygone days. Her passion for an era past is evident in the hats, bags and other items she makes, which are, themselves, intricate works of art.
We don’t see many small millinery operations these days. How did you get into the business of hat making?
I always liked to wear hats when I was growing up. After experimenting with pattern making, I used those skills to experiment with making hats. I made my first hat when I was around 17 or 18. The first one was a red velvet fez for myself. I began to make hats for others when I started receiving compliments on them. So I’ve been making hats for over 35 years.
You also make handbags and other goods. How do you decide what to stitch up?
I do make some bags and clothing but I find myself drawn to making hats most of the time. I get distracted easily. So a lot of time I’ll intend to make something completely different and find myself putting it aside to work on hats. I can’t help it!
We love your matching hats and bags with pretty haberdashery. How much time does it ordinarily take you to design and make a hat or a bag?
It’s hard to say because I’m constantly jumping from one thing to another. The basic hat or bag doesn’t take too long but it’s deciding on the finish or embellishment that takes up the time, so it could be less than an hour or all day! A lot of my work is hand finished or completely hand stitched depending on the piece. I’ve found pieces that I started years ago and finally finish them after all that time and, then again, I’ll come across something and roll my eyes and throw it out.
What is the craziest type of hat you’ve made?
Generally people like classic styles and don’t like to draw that much attention to themselves. But I did get a request for a shark appliqué on a hat for a gentleman with a rather large head.
Do you see any spring trends in the chapeau industry – how about the French beret?
I really don’t pay attention to any of the trends. I don’t think the beret has ever really been out. It’s a classic!
How do you keep your line fresh and modern, particularly the fancier hats?
I love vintage styles. My favorite are from the ‘20s through the ‘40s, I would say. It all depends on my mood as to what I produce. Sometimes I might have an idea for something and other times it’s what I dig out of my stash of fabrics, ribbon, buttons and feathers. I do love old movies and vintage periodicals. The fancier hats would be worn at the races, derby parties and weddings. Unfortunately, in the States not a lot of people wear hats to weddings. It’s more popular in Europe. It would be nice to see that change. It’s really nice to see hats at a wedding.
Any mad hatter stories?
Well I’m clearly a bit mad! I think you have to be a little quirky and throw caution to the wind if you want to be any kind of artist or creator. Not that I consider myself an “artist.” I’m more of a dabbler.
Also available at Whimsies in Warren and Restored by Design in Newport