WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTO Sarah Rowlands

You’ll find milliner Roz Willmott-Dalton in her own creative hub at the back of her garden. A room filled to the brim with art and inspiration, colour and activity. Not to mention two Griffon dogs, Elvira Jellybean and Ozzy Oscar. There is no choice but to get creative alongside her.

Roz is a master of her craft, talking to Avenues while manipulating and firmly instructing the fabric beginnings of a piece for a client.

“Millinery skills have really skipped a generation,” she tells me. “People have had grandmothers or great aunts that were milliners. Around the 1960s the hairdos started to die down and flatten and the expectations from society changed.

“You didn’t automatically put your hat and gloves on to go out – so that was the end of that.”

Roz trained in Dunedin but the majority of her career has been based here in Christchurch.

“I did a fashion design degree for three years, back in the late 90s. Last century! We had an introduction to millinery there. I played around as much as you can do.”

“My husband encouraged me to work for myself. I ended up working on everything from tourist apparel to street wear and club wear – it was really broad. It was fun. That was in 2002 and I’ve been in the design business ever since.”

However, it got harder for Roz to compete with offshore manufacturers and their prices and she began to reassess what she really wanted to dedicate her time to.

“I’d been thinking about hats for a long time. There’s a creative freedom in millinery that I was longing for, I suppose. It’s definitely an art, and to a degree a somewhat forgotten art. The way things are done now has been the same for generations. Some techniques have been in practice for 200 years and are still relevant today.” Roz says there is “always more to learn” and heads to Australia when she can to take courses with top milliners from around the world.

“There’s nothing like being in a room of like-minded people to make you realise you made the right choice. It’s exciting.

“I find a lot of satisfaction in hat making. There’s as many technical aspects to millinery as there is to fashioning a good garment. You might wear something on your head that you might not specifically wear in a garment. That’s part of the fun of it. You want to wear the hat, not have the hat wear you.

“You’ll meet people who say, ‘oh no, I can’t wear hats. They don’t suit me!’ I feel like saying, ‘well, do you have feet? Do you suit shoes?’”

Roz believes it’s all about finding the right style and wearing it correctly.

“A hat can take a low-key outfit to the next level,” she enthuses.

“You can wear an outlandish hat, and it adds an element of class. You can escape in a hat. You can look more alluring. You can become someone else.”

When prompted for a tip on finding a good hat, Roz stays true to her art, urging people to go for quality. “Steer clear of a hat with traces of hot glue!” she quips.

Roz’s millinery pieces are stocked exclusively at Ingrid Brook Fashion & Bridal Designer, on the Boardwalk at The Tannery.

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan