William Walker Biography
In 1976, I formed the Canadiana Historical Costume Society of British Columbia and Western Canada for the purpose of the preservation and study of quality Hats and Gowns from the 1860's to the present. It was in the early stages of the Costume Society that a fellow member, Mrs. Phyllis Suais, an accomplished milliner, showed me how to block a piece of buckram form. In doing so, she became the catalyst in opening my mind to the world of millinery. Commissioned in 1979, I instructed seniors in the art of vintage English wardrobe design and construction circa 1890 – 1918 including drafted patterns, hats, bonnets, top hats.
I was later commissioned to instruct Welsh Society members to reproduce period costumes with Welsh Ethnic Pilgrim hats, Straw hats, Straw brim summer hats and Lace bonnets for each of the Welsh shires, circa 1730, for the 1980 "Gyamanfa Ganu", an International Welsh Choir Festival attended by Lord Carnarvon of Cardiff, Wales. The collection toured Wales the following summer.
In 1982, I opened a custom dressmaking shop in the West End of Vancouver. While creating custom clothing, in order to complete the look, many times I would have to design and make coordinating hats.
In 1985, through an auction bid with the British Columbia Provincial Museum located in Victoria, Canada, contacted, I purchased a surplus of hat blocks, mostly men's crowns and flanges. In 1993, I closed the dress shop to work out of my home.
Through my work in the industry, in 1998, I was approached by the Head of Wardrobe for Paramount Pictures and hired under contract to make Loggers' Caps, Military Hats, Dress Hats (cloche) and Las Vegas Show Hats for the movie "Dudley-Do-Right" starring Brendan Fraser and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Making hats for the movies requires that three exact copies of any one hat be made for continuity of filming. The rationale for this is simple. If one hat is damaged or lost, it can be replaced with a second or third.
Pre-production work included Loggers' Caps in black and blue, or black and green checkered mackinaw flannel; Canadian Mountie Hats for Brendan Fraser's character as a 6 year old boy, and for his character as an adult. Sarah Jessica Parker required an unstructured 1920's cloche.
For the "Maiden of the Corn Field", I produced a fitted head piece in mustard sequins with a three foot corn stalk plume, out of the top, for an aerial act.
A challenging engineering feat was to create 25, North American Native, one inch wide buckskin headband that would support a 20 inch by 30 inch spray of white goose feathers dotted with Swarovski crystals, ala Las Vegas style.
In 2000, I was approached by Paramount Pictures to work in conjunction their wardrobe designer, Carol Ramsay from Los Angeles, on the movie production, "Scary Movie III". I constructed four specialty Canadian Mountie Stetsons, each with successive brim sizes from 5" to 36", when placed in sequence, it appeared on film that the hat was actually growing.
During the project, I received an urgent phone from Carol to design and construct a 1890's fantasy hat for Sunday to ship to Texas a photo-shoot on Monday. This was Thursday, and it was for the cover of the Neiman Marcus' USA Fantasy Catalogue! I designed a forward-titled toy topper in moss green tissue silk taffeta, with a front dipping double brim with a left side brim flaring up into two 20 inch butterfly wings. The center of the wings were cut out and filled with iridescent bronze crin and peacock feathers created the eyes on the wings. Carol loved it.
In the Spring of 2001, an owner from an upscale accessory salon contacted me to create exclusive hats on a consignment basis, and custom commissioned hats by appointment for her clients on an on-going basis. Having this venue required me to produce hats worthy of "couture" status.
With a newly acquired computer in 2002, on the Internet, I found the Hat magazine (United Kingdom) which contained an advertisement for the Womborne School of Millinery. After reviewing a couple of e-books from the School, this validated my methodology of hat making.
Designing my own original creations on a commission basis. I derive inspiration from the world's great designers, Erte, Phillip Sommerville, Beaton, Fox, Bob Mackie, Versacé and the runways of Milan, London, New York, Paris.
Creations designed for clients have graced garden parties at Buckingham Palace, toured to La Moulin Rouge in Paris, France, Berlin and New York.
Carving, hat blocks for turbans and crowns, I happily and madly design away.
As millinery designers, we are only limited by our imagination and ability to create. The Internet opens a world of learning innovative ways of design (texture use, color use, material, different mediums), taking the art of millinery to another dimension.
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