Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
Born in Paris, France, I spent my first eight years immersed in Parisian culture. I remember taking piano, ballet and art lessons and reveling in life as a young Parisian. My mother always had me in hats and special little outfits when we ventured to go shopping or get our bread and cheese at the market. We used public transportation and my mother, a seamstress, made me aware of the fashion around me.
Then the world changed. My mother remarried and we moved to Calgary. I spoke no English and my stepfather did not want French spoken at home. I had to learn English and Serbian, my mother’s native tongue. I struggled in school and clearly remember being bullied for being different. I found solace and expression in the arts, music and fashion. My mother taught me to sew and taught me that no matter how you dress, your accessory will always finish the outfit. We visited a milliner friend of hers in Paris in my teens and I began to create hats. I grew up with a supportive mother who told me to do what I love to do, create. She also encouraged me to pursue my artistic side, so I did, graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design (with a major in drawing) as well as Mount Royal University (with a major in Interior Design).
Define what “fashion” means to you.
Fashion to me is about expressing one’s own personal style through clothing and accessories that complement your body shape and skin tone. I don’t adhere to fashion trends. Shredded denim, athletic wear, hoodies and flip-flops are not really fashionable, just highly marketed. I still scour vintage and thrift stores, finding yesteryear’s clothing is higher quality and more fashionable than the ‘off-the-rack’ offerings of late. Fashion should be expressive and intuitive.
What made you decide to pursue a career in fashion and start Maria Curcic Millinery?
I have been involved with arts and fashion since the early 80’s, as a model, a designer and even a producer of fashion shows. My life circled around hats, design, fashion, architecture, and music. I was designing hats for a friend’s store in 1988, and after several years of growing popularity, she encouraged me to open my own store. I really wanted to push fashion-forward hats to women who wanted something that was not mass produced. Most of my clients wanted me to create something that I, myself would wear. They said I was always ahead of hat fashion, and considering that I was making cocktail hats and fascinators back in the late 1980’s, perhaps I was. In 1994 I opened my shop, Le Chapeau Rouge.
My store stocked many Canadian, European and Australian designers. I created some great lines of my own for my store, which I also produced for various retailers across Canada and the U.S., all while running my store full time. The work load caught up with me so in 1997 I decided to close my store, to only work with small boutiques and to focus more on the “one of a kind” hat shows which I produced twice a year. Today, with easy access to the internet, I create custom designs for clients around the world.
Tell us what it’s like preparing for a show?
Fashion shows need to be a tight collaboration between the clothing designer and the accessory designers. A well-made hat can finish an outfit beautifully, but not all hats are suited for all outfits. Even the models need to be considered when planning which hats to use. Hats can be used to positively accentuate face and body shapes. The hat is usually the last thing put in place after hair, makeup and clothing, so it’s not a time for last minute decisions.
What fashion genres inspire you most and why?
Some genres I love are rockabilly, mainly for the 1950’s element when women were feminine and glamorous. I love the avant-garde, steampunk , mod , minimalism and visual kei. All these genres flow into one another and each has an element of mystery and intrigue. I love fashions that use COLOUR. As a fine artist, I love to see materials with colors.
What are your favorite pieces to design and create?
I love to manipulate materials. I enjoy sketching out the initial concept and then selecting the fabrics to compliment the design. I like a challenge and I like to see what possibilities work with different materials. This influences future designs after seeing the completion of the sketch.
Describe for us how a design goes from an idea in your head to being available for purchase?
Design ideas are my strength, and happily they seem endless. Most of my ideas come from seeing materials and because that is a huge part of what I do. I manipulate and sculpt fabric and that is where it really starts. Sometimes the ideas are formed while I am reading a book or while I am out and about on my daily routines. Inspirations come from my love of clothing and fashion. I am an avid collector of vintage clothing, I wear it, I love it and I respect the workmanship involved in making it. Sadly the quality of materials has gone down with offshore production. There are still some textile mills in the US and Canada that still produce fabrics, but most of the fabrics I purchase come from Europe. Once the design is fabricated, it gets posted on my website for sale or emailed to my collectors. I love the process which inspires me to create even more after seeing the end result.
How do you select what materials to use on your designs?
I enjoy materials that hold shape. I enjoy sculpting and manipulating fabrics to create pieces that complement the materials themselves.
Are there any designers or celebrity fashionistas that you love the most and what is it about them that you love?
I am not much of a follower of fashionistas or celebrities as most celebrities wear jeans and t-shirts and I do not find that to be “Fashionable”. If you are only wearing fashion on red carpets and not in your daily life, how can you truly call yourself fashionable? If anyone was fashionable it would be Isabella Blow who took the chance to support Alexander McQueen, whose works transcended mere fashion. I also admire Jean Paul Gauthier for his edginess.
What are your plans for the future?
I have been making hats for over 30 years. I would love it if the local market was big enough to support fashion and design, but realistically, my market is the entire world. I will continue to promote my product locally, but I will also continue to build my online presence and reach out to markets where fashion is appreciated and respected. In short, my plan for the future is to continue on the same path that I have been on for the last 30 years, create, create, collaborate, live, and enjoy the process.
Lesley is the founder and editor of What’s Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events. She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.