Kentucky Derby goer? I have the inside scoop for you! London based milliner, Dillon Wallwork, has designed hats for a slew of famous Brits, including Queen Elizabeth, The Late Lady Diana, Kate Middleton and Jerri Hall( famous but not a Brit). Now, as a subscriber to The Little Red Diary, he would love to design one for you! Recently, I sat down with Dillon to talk about his creative childhood, and his professional life…
Kaki: I know that you came from a very creative family. Tell us about that and how your creativity was encouraged.
I was born in London in 1960, my parents both came from artistic/creative backgrounds
My father’s father was an industrial artist, and my father studied fine art at Goldsmith’s and specialized in Ceramics.
My mother’s mother was a school teacher and a fine needle-woman, was always sewing, making clothes for my sister and taught my mother to sew too.
Mother also was very talented with her hands, always busy with something on the go – patchwork, macrame, crochet, knitting, weaving, sewing, drawing and later on watercolors.
She met my father at teacher-training college – think she thought he was a bit bohemian and different from all the rest of the guys, it was the fifties.
We lived in London where my father and mother opened an art gallery, together with some friends.
My father bought a house in the country and soon we moved to Dorset and lived there, but visiting London to see friends and to go the theatre etc.
I was always asking my mother to draw for me, princesses and brides – I seem to have been obsessed with pretty pictures!
My sister and I always had a dressing up box and would act out plays, and part of the fun was making the costumes.
How spooky that I would end up working for brides and real-life Princesses!
After finishing school, it was just assumed I would go to art college, following in my sister’s footsteps.
she was doing Graphics and Illustration at Brighton. I went to Salisbury College of art where I completed an art foundation course.
I then studied Fashion Design, learning about pattern-cutting, design, draping on the stand, accessories and fashion illustration, which I loved.
In 1981 I left College and moved back to London where I really wanted to work as a fashion Illustrator – at that time computers were just beginning to be used for images and so the traditional method of drawing was out of mode.
I then met up with a girl who was at college with me and had gotten a job at the studio of Mitzi Lorenza trimming hats. I went along to see how it worked.
Kaki: I know that your specialized training must have taken years. At what point did you know that your craft had truly arrived?
Well, along I went – in the hope of employment, as I had always enjoyed accessorizing the outfits I had designed and hats interested me.
I got a job working in the ‘model’ workroom under the guidance of Madame Bryson, who had been trained in Paris under Christian Dior – I was in awe of this woman! – I had read and heard of Dior in “History of Fashion” at college, and now here I was meeting the very people that made it happen!.
The rest of the room was filled with an assortment of women from Poland, Hungary, France, England – they all had amazing stories to tell a young boy of 21 fresh out of college.
After spending a year there learning as much as I could from these wonderful women, I decided it was time to move on. Madame Bryson told me there were only really three good Milliners to work for, Philip Somerville, Freddie Fox and Graham Smith. Off I went and thought well if I don’t get a job with the first I would go to the next and so on. I knocked on the door at Philip Somerville Ltd. and I asked if there was a chance of a job – the rest is history.
Starting in the workroom, learning the trade at grass-roots level from very skilled milliners, I was able to gain experience and after time get promotion, working as Mr Somerville’s assistant being front of house, dealing with wholesale buyers and private clients – later on some very VIP customers.
In 2008 Phillip Somerville closed. Then in 2009, I opened a business in my own name. Having been in the trade for quarter of a century, I had confidence, experience, knowledge and contacts.
I had developed my own style of design together with the traditional methods, tweaked with modern twists and materials. Working with clients to their requirements, listening to them getting to know and understand their needs and tastes, together working with designers and designing hats to compliment the wearer and completing the outfit. My client is my showcase ‘they are an advert for me and my label’ so I want them to look good, feel confident, comfortable and happy – a majority of my clients return to me for their next special occasion hat and are happy to reccomend me to their family and friends.
In my years working in the millinery business I have met a variety of clients, from wholesale buyers – purchasing for large department stores or small designer boutiques. Working with these buyers I learned a lot about what sells and what customers want.
Working with private clients who come wanting something special for a weddings, bar mitzvahs, the races, etc. you have to know the occasion and type of person that goes to these events and the suitable outfit for the big day, it is also very important to give excellent customer service. I treat each of my customers as a VIP, and endeavour to make the whole experience from initial consultation to the unveiling an altogether pleasurable one.
I always advise people to have a full length mirror near the door and to check themselves in it head to toe, before facing the world outside!
Marlene Dietrich has always been a great influence on me. Since my childhood, when my father had one of her records, and on the cover was an image of her immaculate in the most beautiful beaded gown.
She was a style icon always wearing the most innovative hat, and dressing with such panache and elegance. (Ditto for Kaki!)
If you are considering the Derby this year, How incredible would it be to have a hat from a designer to the Royals? Dillon’s hats are all handmade and within your reach. Prices range from 250-795 pounds. Besides his fabulous gifts and talent, I adore him. He is such an inspiration to me, and I am honored to call him my friend.