“Tonnes of hair-grips and a large can of hair-spray will always save the situation”
insposa speaks to Italian Milliner Giulia Mio about the beauty of making bespoke hats for Mothers of the Bride
It’s been a couple of years since I first saw Aki. She’s further down towards the end of this article. You’ll spot her easily. She’s a magnificent burst of colour and florals, quite breathtaking. You can’t miss her. And it was this incredible hat that made be stop in my tracks.
I honestly can’t remember whether Italian milliner Giulia Mio contacted me first or the other way round (she probably remembers better than I) but as soon as I saw Aki I knew Giulia Mio Millinery was a label I wanted to know more about. Whoever dreams up, designs and creates something like that is worth speaking to!
Giulia and I had several very long telephone calls. In fact I think the first was nearly two hours long! We discussed everything from hats to design to weddings to websites to her studio in Leicester. We first met in person however when Giulia attended our wedding show in 2020. She arrived with more hats, fascinators and headbands than I have ever seen in my life.
Beautiful handmade creations in silk, straw and leather were scurried through the doors to adorn her display, in every colour, shape and size you can imagine. And it proved a very popular display for both Mothers of the Bride and brides alike as Giulia designs hats for brides too; those who want to shy away from the traditional hair accessory and veil and perfect for women on their second time around who want an elegant hat or fascinator with a bridal vibe.
Soon after the show, Covid struck, and we were all forced to scurry away to our homes and put weddings on hold for a while. During the down time, Giulia has remained busy designing her new Spring Collection. I am really delighted she generously gave of her time to answers my million and one questions about her work, her inspiration and how she creates these wonderful pieces. So without further ado, let’s go behind the scenes into Giulia’s vibrant world of hats.
Giulia, thank you for agreeing to tell us more about your business. Let’s start with a bit about your background. How long have you been doing what you do now?
I’ve been running my business officially from 2015, but I’ve been a milliner for a bit longer. I studied Set and Costume Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice and then moved to Milan and attended the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera, where I got my MA’s in Costume Design.
I started my career as a milliner during my final year of MA’s and then begun to work as a theatrical milliner for a prestigious costume atelier in the city. At the same time, I’ve decided to explore the more bespoke and couture side of Millinery and I started making my own hats to sell to private clients in Milan.
Since I’ve moved to the UK in 2013, I’ve decided to focus only on the couture aspect of my trade and trained with selected teachers to improve my skills in order to offer the best quality to my clients. I’ve officially founded my business in 2015 and I’ve been making bespoke hats and headwear for race-goers, mother of the bride/groom, ceremonies and awards since then.
I have recently been accepted as a member of the British Hat Guild.
What range of services do you offer?
I create couture bespoke hats and headwear for every occasion, suitable from weddings to races. I present two collections a year from which my customers can choose styles and designs to adapt to their needs or buy directly.
One of my specialities is flower-making, which means I can make a wide range of different flowers in silk, velvet, cotton and leather. My flowers can be used as decoration on a mother of the bride/groom hat, as a boutonniere for the groom/gentlemen, as part of the bride headpiece and bouquet.
How did you choose the name for your business?
I simply named the business after myself…it may sound a bit self-centred, but my artistic soul is reflected in every single piece I make! Plus, my name is quite distinctive, so I thought “maybe is easy to remember?”
How would you describe your style?
I can describe my style as elegant and delicate, with a pinch of whimsical and unexpected. I aim for “Timeless Beauty” but I welcome all the positive influences that every trend may bring and incorporate them in my signature.
I take a lot of inspiration from Nature and Art, from my Costume Designer background and my experience working alongside expert couturiers in Milan. I don’t like repeating the same hat again, but I have a clear preference for light upwards sweeping lines that enhance the person and lift the figure.
What do you love most about your job?
Honestly…everything! From the moment a client starts sharing ideas with me to the final fitting, I enjoy every bit of it.
I love planning and sketching for my clients, to help them visualise the final piece, having them play with shapes, materials and decorations to create something unique.
The making process is time-consuming and rather long, but I enjoy losing myself in it, spending the time to get everything as I want it to be.
The big smile on my client’s face is the best reward at the end of the journey.
What do you like least about your job?
It’s hard to say since I am so passionate about what I do.
If I have to think about it, I don’t like when a client doesn’t trust my suggestions and is fixated on an idea. I am an expert in my field and I am confident in my assessment. I always look for a compromise, the perfect balance between my artistic views and my client’s desires/needs, but when someone is refusing my help, I feel undermined and not trusted. To be honest, it doesn’t happen very often and every time we eventually managed to find a perfectly balanced compromise that satisfied both sides.
Does the responsibility of your job ever scare you and why?
If I have to think about it, I have kind of a big responsibility. I am making something that is going right onto someone’s head and next to their face, that is supposed to be elegant, flattering, light, beautiful and unique. No pressure… but, as I said, I love my job too much to hold it against it.
What’s the most stressful moment of your job?
I always find the final fitting is the most stressful part of my work. I know I’ve worked really hard, I’ve shared all the progress with my client and now it’s time to see if everything is working as planned! It is a big relief when I see a big smile appearing on my client’s face
What’s the most rewarding moment of your job?
I may have mentioned it before, but seeing my client smiling, admiring herself in the mirror with her brand new hat on, checking all the angles and discovering all the small details… that what makes me happy.
Do you ever get creative block and if you do what do you do to kick start your imagination? Do you rip up designs and start again? Do you ever doubt yourself?
I do sometimes have a creative block, mostly due to stress and lack of self esteem…yes, it sounds familiar…a lot of creatives doubt themselves constantly, thinking we are not good enough (impostor syndrome anyone??) and we should get a “normal” job and live a “normal” life. Guess what? it doesn’t work like that for everyone!!!
Whenever I am stuck with a hat for all the above reasons and more, I just step away, do something else like embroidery, or read a book or play with the cat. It helps to clear my head of some of the negative thoughts that were stopping me to do what I love the most. Millinery is an expression of my artistic soul and you can’t live without your soul, can you?
Who is you favourite fashion designer and why?
It’s really hard for me to pick one favourite only! My Italian soul would pick Valentino, for his timeless perfection, the beautiful lines and the incredible taste. My European soul will absolutely choose Dior, both under John Galliano and Maria Grazia Chiuri direction: two completely different visions of the Maison, but equally incredible. And finally my adoptive country soul will without any doubt choose Alexander McQueen as the most inspiring British designer: so innovative, so dramatic, the craftsmanship and the attention to details, I would have loved working with him – but he got Philip Tracey instead, so fair enough!
What considerations do you give to the planet when you design your creations?What fabrics do you use and where do you source the fabric from?
We have only one planet and we are not treating it very well. For me it’s really important not to add useless “junk” into this world and I’ve been trying to shop ethically since my ’20s. Saying that, whenever I make I hat I create a unique piece, something that is very difficult to replicate and even when it is made again, it will rarely look exactly the same.
I don’t like repetition and nothing I designed can be mass produced. I source my fabrics (mostly silks, linen/cotton and leathers) from UK suppliers, where I know the quality and ethics are important aspects. Sometimes I manage to get my hands on vintage materials, like straws and veiling, which are not in production anymore. I love using these incredible materials and they create the most exquisite one of a kind pieces.
If you had a magic wand to wave whilst ‘working’ what’s the one thing would you wish for?
Cutting petals and leaves, no doubt about it.
To give you an example, the average rose has between 20 and 45 petals in different sizes, all need to be cut from pre-stiffened fabric and shaped by hand using hot tools. I don’t mind the shaping part really, but imagine you have 5 or 6 roses to make for a hat…you really don’t want to start counting the number of petals that need cutting, do you?
What preparation do you have to do before a wedding?
I am not usually involved in the actual wedding day, but I am always available to help with styling tips about how to position, wear and secure the hat on the big day!
What’s your ‘must pack’ essential item in your wedding kit?
It is not my “must pack”, but it is what I recommend to my clients:
1) carry your hat-box with you and store it in a safe place (the boot of your car will do). You may want to take your hat off at some point, and it’s best to put it back safely in a hat-box than leave it around for someone to accidentally sit on it;
2) tonnes of hair-grips and a large can of hair-spray will always save the situation;
3) no matter where the wedding is or in which season, have a large clear plastic umbrella in your car, ALWAYS. My hats can take a bit of rain and drizzle, just enough for the big group photos, but if the weather is turning to the worse, do not expect the hat to survive a proper heavy shower!
If you could give one piece of advice to couples for choosing a vendor in your category, what would it be?
There are so many different types of milliners out there. The vast majority offer a “bespoke” service but not many offer a “couture bespoke” service when really everything is made and tailored for your needs to the highest standard.
When you decide to get in touch with a milliner, make sure you check their previous work, their social media and if their business has been recognised officially by some kind of authority (like the British Hat Guild, for example) or if they have won some awards. It may not mean much, but it will give you a sense if you are working with a professional and not an amateur.
Quick visual tip: when you visit a milliner’ studio and you have some hats that she/he has made previously in your hands for the first time, casually check if you can spot stitches and glue marks…if you do, you may be having a conversation with a lovely person who makes hats, but not a “couture” milliner.
If you could work a celebrity’s wedding, who would it be and why?
If I have to choose a celebrity I would die to work with (not necessarily for her wedding) that person would be Florence Welch, the amazing singer of the “Florence + the Machine” band. She is just too talented, too whimsical, too beautiful and too special. Her voice gets straight to my soul and would love to make all headwear for her tours and album-covers and everything she may need it for… and it turns out she is not married yet…
What advice would you give to new designers starting out?
Oh boy, what advice would I give!?!? It’s a hard one again, but here it is my two pence reply: don’t give up. Every business is different, every designer is different, don’t think that you have to fit in a specific category or follow a specific path to run your business. Grow organically, at your own pace, don’t get forced into standardised solutions if they don’t feel right for you. And don’t give up!
Fun facts about me
Do you have a nickname and if so what is it? I don’t have one nickname…I have several! Some play with my surname, some were given to me by my mom, but they are all quite hard to pronounce for non-Italian-speakers. For now, I am happy when people pronounce my name correctly!
When you were small what did you want to be when you grew up? Hard to say… I always knew I was a bit of an artist, spending my school breaks in class, drawing and painting with my Art teacher (that was a big clue, I guess). I’ve done ballet since I was 9, so for a while, I may have contemplated becoming a ballerina, but I believe Art was a stronger calling (although I am still dancing…).
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing? Honestly…no clue! I probably would have pursued my costume designer career in Italy
What do you do to unwind? I love reading (a true book-worm), and I recently rediscovered my passion for historical embroidery (currently working on a piece of Elizabethan needlework)
Can you cook and if so what is your speciality? I am Italian, so of course, I can cook!!! …and rather well, if I say so to myself!! I am very versatile, so I can cook a full lunch for 6 people or a buffet for 20. I love baking too, but I find it difficult baking traditional Italian cakes here in the UK (too many ingredients missing) so I happily switched to more British flavours. So far nobody complained…
What’s your favourite tipple? My favourite guilty pleasure is an Italian liquor called “China Martini”, basically impossible to find here in the UK. I don’t like drinking in general, but this herb-based liquor has strong memories attached to my beloved grandmother, so it will be always the winner.
Favourite holiday? Florence with my partner in 2006
Favourite movie? “A little Chaos” by Alan Rickman
Dogs or cats? Both! I have a cat, Mina, but my family in Italy had a beautiful Labrador, Angy for 13 years. I really would like to add more pets in our little family…but not now
Favourite author? I don’t have one, but I am a big fan of mysteries and crime books, especially the old-fashion ones like Sir Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
What are you reading at the moment? “A Choir of Crows” by Candace Robb
Favourite biscuit? Impossible to choose
Favourite takeaway? Chinese
Favourite ‘Quality Street’ The purple one
Marmite – love or hate it? Definitely not a flavour I would ever consider adding in my diet…sorry, total hate
Most famous person you’ve ever met? The American actor Stanley Tucci during a press preview where one of my hats was exhibited…he was really impressed with my hat and I was rather speechless…also, he is truly charming.
If not married, absolute MUST HAVE at your wedding? Tonnes of good fooooooood
What’s the usual procedure for booking your services?
To make a bespoke hat can take me up to 5 days of solid work, so to fit everything and everyone during the busy season can become quite a challenge.
I recommend getting in touch with me at least 10 weeks before the date of the wedding between April and October, 6 weeks will be fine between November and March. It will give us plenty of time to discuss the outfit the hat should go with, the design and style, the colours and the price. I usually try to deliver at least 7 days before the wedding day, so if there are any emergencies, I still have time before the big day.
Do you take a deposit and if so how much?
Once a final design has been agreed upon and my quote has been accepted, I require a 40% non-refundable deposit upfront. Once the deposit has been paid, I can purchase the materials for the hat and officially start working on the commission.
How does your payment process work? Do you offer instalments or a payment plan?
I prefer direct bank transfer, but I accept also PayPal. Once the deposit has been paid, I am pretty flexible about the method of payment for the remaining sum. I am happy to offer instalments but, in no case, the hat will be delivered before the last payment has been completed.
What’s the best way for couples to communicate with you – phone, text, email?
I find it better to receive detailed emails, so we can share images and inspirations (Pinterest boards links are welcomed) and everything is in writing. I am happy to communicate via WhatsApp as well
Do you have a cancellation policy and if so how does that work?
I don’t have a real cancellation policy. Once someone commissions me a piece and paid the deposit, I start making the hat. If at some point the client has changed her mind or the situation has changed, it is completely up to her to decide to have the hat made anyway or not. If she decides that she doesn’t want/need the hat anymore, I will simply abandon the project, but I won’t return the non-refundable deposit.
Anything else you would like to share with brides?
Please be yourself and enjoy the experience! I really can make almost anything and your imagination is the limit! Trust me and my advice, but in the end, it’s you who will wear the hat and you are the one who needs to feel amazing. I am here to help you to get there!
With thanks to Giulia Mio. Images courtesy of Giulia Mio Millinery. Photography IsoElegant Photography, Giulia Mio
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