I initially met Jennifer Ouellette in 2003 when she came into my first NYC studio in Hudson Heights for a facial and I happened to be wearing one of her headbands that I purchased at Barneys NY. She became a regular client and I ended up selling her incredible creations in that studio. She has been a friend ever since and is one of the kindest, most sincere, creative women I know. She let me in on how and why she became a milliner and what she would be if she wasn’t.
How did you become a milliner?
I grew up in my mother’s vintage clothing shop in St. Louis, MO. She had her own collection of hats dating back through the decades. I was fascinated by their sculptural shapes and construction. I used to watch my mother sew my clothing, but I was always curious about how the hats were made since they are 3-dimensional shapes. After my studies in fashion & costume design at the University of Missouri - Columbia & the London College of Fashion, I completed an internship with millinery mentor, Stephen Jones. I was instantly hooked on millinery because of its unique combination of fashion, theater and sculptural art - three of my passions. After working with fashion and theatrical milliners for a few years I decided to start my own business with a new perspective on fashion & millinery.
What is the hardest thing about hat making?
Custom hats require a perfect fit in size & personality. The challenge of hat making is its focus on the crown of the body. As a milliner, I have a unique insight into a client’s desires and sensitivities. Many people have interesting perspectives about their hats and what they should express about themselves. I must interpret each client's needs regarding the occasion, fit, proportion, and style impact.
What are the biggest challenges in your business?
Since my early work experiences in NYC, I resolved not to be a part of the fashion industry’s dark labor practices and its harmful impact on the globe. I decided my business should be based on respecting its artisans & honoring the environment. For 23 years, my designs have been produced in my private studios in NYC and the Dominican Rep. Guaranteeing high-quality craftsmanship and maintaining an atmosphere of responsible production are my biggest challenges. While fair trade techniques and sustainability are gaining more awareness with fashion consumers many people still need convincing that their purchases have power.
What is the most unusual request you have received regarding a hat order/design?
Once a retailer asked me to make one of my designs more commercial. The most usual requests come from myself to create things that have an inner meaning.
What is your most favorite design? Why?
My signature US patented headbands are the essential accessory and my favorite creations. They are a new invention, like a mini hat, that offers you all the mystery and playfulness of a hat while being more modern and accessible. My designs are not your typical headband. They derived from knowledge of hat making and like hats, they highlight your face, add mystique to your look and get you noticed. I have hundreds of timeless designs of heirloom quality to top off your look and express the real you.
My other favorites are my headpieces. Some people call them fascinators. They are the perfect combination of a hat and a hair accessory. They are shapes attached to headbands that are easy to wear and rest in the perfect position when you put them on. Voila, instant style, no adjustments necessary!
If you could have another talent? What would it be?
In my next life, I would love to be a singing, salsa dancing, marimba player!
What inspires you?
Optimism inspires me. Humility inspires me. Nature & art inspire me. Inspiration is everywhere in everything, you just have to have the right perspective.
What is your definition of beauty?
Sincerity and a smile. The more you smile the more your eyes shine and you feel beautiful on the inside. Our eyes are the gateway to our inner souls.
What are 3 must-have products/treatments?
Microcurrent facials, Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream, Eminence Ultralight Oil and YSL All Hours Concealer
Tell me a secret.
I am grateful to have met you when I was 32. You set me on the right path to taking care of my face. Your expertise and care continue to shine in my skin!