Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Alchemist's Apprentices

Even in deepest, darkest January, when the sun has set before we even leave the office, there ARE fun things to do.  When we heard that milliner Heidi Lee (aka the Design Alchemist) would be holding a Jean paul Gaultier-inspired fascinator workshop called "MAKE" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, we must have been among the first to sign up.  Not familiar with Heidi's work?  Yes, you are.  You just didn't realize it (and for the longest time neither did we).  We unwittingly introduced you to her signature hat in our 2013 Easter post.

Remember this Easter Parade photograph featuring Markus Kelle wearing a dramatically minimalist hat consisting of a stripped black lacquered parasol? Yup. That's Heidi's creation. We were thrilled to discover that Patricia Field carries Heidi's designs at her store on the Bowery and became big fans.

So you can understand why we were excited at the prospect of meeting Heidi and making hats in much the same way some people are excited at the prospect of getting together for a quilting bee -- or a Super Bowl party.  Here is the atrium of the Brooklyn Museum moments before the workshop started.  Heidi had mounted three installations to further inspire her students. On the mannequin in the center is the red version of the parasol hat.  In the background are tables equipped with the makings of all sorts of millinery marvels.

Here is a close-up of the the installation of the crimson red version of the parasol hat.

Before getting down to the actual hat-making, Heidi gave all of us a tour of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, in deference to students who may not have actually seen the show, to give them some background about the designer and his unique approach to fashion.  Heidi is a knockout. She is an amazing combination. An uber-talented, high energy, petite bombshell -- and a RISD alumna (naturally!) -- she seamlessly combines downtown hip and Brooklyn vibes with humor and haute couture in her tongue in cheek creations.

After a short beverage break (included in the price of admission, along with the tour and the materials -- which far exceeded the $25 ticket price), we all returned to the atrium and got down to business. At our table, everyone started with a length of red or black horsehair, a matching satin headband (seen here under the horsehair), a flat straw medallion on which to place our creation, and Heidi's gold business card.  Also on the table were bottles of glue, hot glue guns, red or black hat trim (to hide seams), scissors, and buckram, which Heidi had spray-painted red or black, to serve as a hard core on which to drape the soft horsehair.

Heidi went to each of about eight tables in turn.  While we were waiting (ours was among the last tables), we doodled with the horsehair.  This woman was the first one at our table to come up with a finished fascinator of her own design.  While most of us built our designs up from the straw base, which in turn was glued to the headband, this novel design wraps around the headband, and is finished with the medallion.

The horsehair had a natural tendency to adhere to a spiral pattern. A student at FIT seated at our table forced the material out of its comfort zone and made it blossom in several directions.

Variations on the built-up spiral were the most popular among those of us with the horsehair.  While both of these ladies made spiral fascinators, the woman on the left added a feather at the top and left a bit of a tail at the end.

This woman built a lot of height into her fascinator and added the trim to give it extra dimension.

Even guys got into the act. This gent added cut out hearts from Heidi's card to festoon his black fascinator.

A top hat on the left, a spray of loops on the right.

How this woman created a black rose, and managed to get it to face forward, rather than up, remains a mystery to us, but we loved the result.

Loved the look of this frothy red flower-shaped fascinator.

This fascinator makes very sparing use of the material, to great effect.

It's very reminiscent of a Tudor headpiece.

Some of the guests had just the right attitude to carry off their creations, like this blonde woman in her black fascinator.

Forgoing a headband altogether, this hat design uses the material alone to give both height and width.

Not all the hats were made with horsehair. Heidi drew some of her inspiration from the halo-like headpieces in the Virgin collection in the first room of the Gaultier exhibition, shown here behind the master himself, flanked by the curators.

Two tables were given these cobalt blue discs to fashion halo-like hats.  This woman embellished hers with several of Heidi's gold playing card/business cards.

This innovative hat turns the rules on their head, so to speak.  The blue headband is festooned with feather-like shredded black buckram, and more of Heidi's business cards.

Okay, by now some of you are asking yourselves what OUR fascinators looked like.  Here, a fascinator from the House of Jean.

Jean confesses that she was actually trying to make something a bit wider, aiming for something like this masterpiece (by another, more talented student):

Although Jean's hat's silhouette looks more like Stan Laurel than Oliver Hardy, she is quite pleased with the end result and can't wait to find an evening event at which to wear it.

While the majority of guests fashioned fascinators wider at the base and narrower at the top, Valerie (apparently fascinated by a fascinator just out of sight of this picture) chose the opposite approach, with narrow base and wider top.

Doesn't she look great wearing her House of Valerie creation?  (The hair style, as all hat wearers know, is called hat hair.  Ladies the lesson here is: never - EVER - let yourself be photographed without first checking a mirror.  A BIG mirror.)

On the big screen, a shot of the fascinator Heidi wore for the evening.  That's us, silhouetted on either side of her creation.

Here we are, with the maestra herself, modeling our creations.

Heidi donned her signature parasol hat and we accompanied her to the 5th floor in an attempt to photograph her in it in front of the JPG exhibition, but alas, were turned away by the guard. We did manage to get this shot in the elevator on the way back to the first floor.

Running out of time, we hurriedly packed our creations away and got ready to go.  We were lucky to snag Heidi, in front of this wonderful white screen for one last photo op.  Did you guess the source of the inspiration for her fascinator?

That's right! The spiraling twin headlights of JPG's infamous cone dress!

BONUS PHOTO: A full-length shot of Heidi in her signature hat.  One note: the museum vetoed her wearing this hat during the tour and class for fear she'd poke someone in the eye.  Guess that's where being as tall as Markus (over 6 feet -- plus the added height of his giant platform pumps) really pays off and allows one to wear such a hat whenever and wherever.

That's why having a smaller version is always a great alternative!!! (image from

Before we knew it, it was minutes before 10 o'clock (yes, the Brooklyn Museum of Art is open till 10pm on Thursdays!!!!), and the guard was rushing us out.  No patience for the Design Alchemist nor her apprentices.  Business is business.  But we had a terrific time and a great experience!  Already dedicated believers on our arrival, we emerged from our super evening with an even greater appreciation for the creativity and craftsmanship of milliners in general and Heidi in particular. For much, much more on Heidi, please click here.

What we're wearing:
Valerie is wearing: shearling hat by Owen Barry, jacket by Dana Buchman, shirt by Gaultier, pants by Issey Miyake, Gustav Klimt print shoes by Icon.

Jean is wearing: a Jean Paul Gaultier Soleil dress; vintage red felt hat from Incogneeto; tube skirt from Ivan Grundahl; vintage red wooden necklace; vintage red bakelite and resin earrings, rings and bracelets; Angela Caputi red Greek-key cuff; vintage eyeglass frames from Fabulous Fanny's; cross-body bag from street vendor;  DIY customized-platform Dansko clogs.


  1. Heidi's outfit makes me happy just to look at her, and her hats are so much fun! This event would have been just the thing to temporarily banish the winter blahs. I love seeing what people created with their hat-making supplies.

  2. I am in love with the possibilities and the creativity. This event was way more exciting than the Super Bowl or any other Bowl. Enchanted by the House of Jean and Valerie!

  3. You ladies are awesome. I am still coveting that arm adorned with red bracelets. What a fun night. I'm the one above with the feather in my cap. I will now have to follow your blog for future "fascination." - Cheers Jolly

  4. Ladies, it was so exciting to meet you! And thank you for including a shot of me in the post. If you'd like to see the chapeaux I create, visit my Etsy shop: and if you'd like to see what my friend Pinky and I cook up (you included her photo here as well), our shop is Cheers!