Hat and Fascinator Designer Rachelle Marie Willnus Interview
I had never heard about the Kentucky Derby when I lived in China. The first time these words appeared in my life was 3 years after I moved to America. There was a local design competition and the theme was the Kentucky Derby. My husband/English teacher gave me a mini lesson about the meaning and basic cultural concept. When he started to pull up some photos online, I was like, come on, of course I know this. At least I know about these fabulous hats! I mean who cares if there are horses running around if there are beautiful and colorful accessories in the area? I have seen this type of head covering many times; from Queen Elizabeth to Hollywood. They’ve had supporting roles in many movies. The best one for me has to be Pride and Prejudice. I’ve always thought I wouldn’t mind living in that time period. Well that is if the women’s rights condition had been a bit better. 😉 But still, that was really a golden time of women’s fashion in my mind. Those dresses were so figure flattering and the hats were just amazing.
I first met Rachelle Marie Willnus, a local hat and fascinator designer, last fall at a fashion show. I have to say, her Derby style designs instantly caught my eye. We chatted a bit and exchanged contact info. I had already decided my blog needed one of her hats! After that first show, we have bumped into each other quite often. And every single time, her designs impress me more and more. I love how she added a fun and modern vibe to her hats but still managed to keep the posh and elegant soul. Don’t you love these beautiful pieces of art?
And it’s not just me that is sitting up and taking notice. This piece below is in the Detroit Historical Museum in their FASHION D.FINED Show. On Exhibit from September 2015 – Fall/Winter 2016, this collection features local designers who represent the past, present and future of Detroit Fashion.
And Rachelle is also keeping the movie connection alive with her hats as well. These were two crowns she made for the feature film Crowning Jules. This Lucas Miles Film was made in Michigan and Indiana. The film stars local and national actresses Jacqueline and Elizabeth Labadie and is set to be released in summer, 2016
But you don’t have to work in show business. Real people are wearing her Derby hats too.
I had the chance to interview Rachelle last week and I have to say, I respect her as a professional and expert even more. Not to mention her honest, caring personality. I’ve said before that one of the best things about having my blog is the incredible people I’ve met because of it and Rachelle is definitely one of them. She is a great person to have in your life. 🙂
Q#1: What made you quit your day job and become a hat designer?
I became a stay-at home mom with my girls. They both became involved with the Farmington Hills Youth Theatre…As with any parent, I supported my girls in their activities. One way I did that was by making costumes for their shows. I did this for several shows and realized I had God given talent…not in a vain way…but the fact that I had never taken a sewing class and could make costume pieces was amazing to me and to my family, quite frankly. In 2009, I attended my first Kentucky Derby. I decided to make my own hat. Well…as they say…the rest is history…Friends asked me to make headpieces for them…their friends asked and so on….With the love and support of my husband and parents, I bought supplies and started a business. Each year I am blessed to say that my business has grown thanks to great friends and amazing clients. I owe so much to them! I have a master’s degree in Instructional Systems Design (designing manufacturing training programs for engineers). I never would have seen this in my future. I suppose it’s my understanding of form-fit-function that makes my designs a hit with clients.My mother and grandmother both were exceptional seamstresses, I suppose I was paying attention more than I realized. 😉
Q#2: What are your inspirations for your designs?
The inspiration for my designs comes from nature and the design of the human face. I take colors that exist naturally in nature and I build on them. There are hundreds of colors and undertones in a peacock feather…from coppers and golds to shimmering brights and bolds. All of these colors play off of each other to create a symphony of color. Balancing those colors evenly with human skin tone is where the magic happens. The human face shape inspires me to shape the sinamay into the right size and angle for each head and face shape. Anyone can wear a fascinator. It’s about designing the correct style for each person. Note: Sinamay is the material I use. Sinamay is an organic material made from an abaca plant which is similar to a banana plant. It is lightweight and comfortable for all day wear at events like the Kentucky Derby. All of my sinamay is from England and Australia and each piece is sewn and handshaped by me. Each piece is couture; I never make the same piece twice.
Q#3: What is your plan for the next 5 years?
In the next five years it is my goal to open my own hat shop. I enjoy collaboration and I would like to sell my designer friends’ clothing in my store as well. A woman could come in and buy it all from one store. Something for him; something for her. I know menswear designers too.
Q#4: What is your suggestion for anybody who wants to become a fashion/ accessory designer?
My advice for an aspiring designer would be: first…you must LOVE fashion…everything about it. Passion for dressing and accessorizing has to be a part of your natural being. Second: Stay true to your craft. If you believe in your creations, others will too. Part of selling your product is your belief in your brand. Belief in oneself will sell your pieces. Third: Stay at it…You will have good days and you’ll have the worst days ever. Stay the course and people will follow. Fourth: Have a plan…market yourself…make friends with other fashion compadres. No one understands better than another fashion person. Lastly: Never give up. You set the trends, you build the product that others will wear…own that…and take pride in yourself.
For my outfit today, I wanted to try something new, something we can wear more often than one weekend every May with my fabulous yellow hat. So I built this outfit from a punk style leather jacket. The day I was taking the photos, it was cold and snowing. We call that springtime in Michigan. So first I added on a casual graphic sweater. Then I picked this blush full skirt to bring the spring theme. Finally, I added on my yellow cross body bag and heels. I like that there’s just enough balance of the girlieness and toughness. Those studs on my jacket, bag and heels also bring a more youthful and fun vibe. Do you think this outfit is a Yea or Nay? Or I guess at the Kentucky Derby that would be “neigh”! 🙂 Please let me know your thoughts by comment below!
I know what you are thinking right now. You too need a custom made hat from Rachelle. 😉 As your full service blogger, I’ve got you covered! Appointments are available by calling 810.623.4926 cell (for Rachelle) or email: email@example.com
Rachel can be found on Facebook. I can’t wait to see how you are rocking your Derby Hat! 🙂
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Featured on TV 20 Whats Up Detroit
I had been on radio and TV a few times many years ago when I was in China. But it had nothing to do with my fashion sense. In fact, if you could see me from back then, I am very sure you wouldn’t believe it’s the same person. I mean when I look at some of those photos I can’t believe it’s the same person either! No, the reason I was on the air then was all because of my job at the time. I was an HR and training manager for a pretty big company and the local news wanted to do some stories on that.
Fast forward about 15 or so years, change to a new country half way around the world and as crazy as it sounds, but there I am on TV again! But this time around, my fashion blog led me to this fun interview with the cast of the “What’s Up Detroit” show seen on Sunday afternoons on Detroit’s TV 20. I first met the people behind the show at their viewing party. Their mission was to tell the story about what is good in the Detroit area. There are plenty of places where you can read, watch or listen to all that’s wrong with the city but these folks wanted to show the upside. I did a post on that viewing party and the people behind the show that you can read here. That’s a message that really hit home with me. Since moving to this area I’ve seen over and over how the people and city are really trying to make a comeback. I’m proud to think of this area as my new hometown. So anyway, it was a Wednesday evening and I got a text asking if I might have time to do an interview the next evening. Even after living in America for almost 9 years, I am still not very comfortable with my English so I was really nervous. Especially since I had no clue what they will ask me. Oh well, you know what they say; “prepare for the worst but hope for the best!” So with that in mind I practiced and role played and figured if worse came to worst, I would just wing it!
I had to rush home from my day job to change clothes, touch up the makeup on my stressed out face and headed out to meet the crew. It turned out that I was worried for no reason. I had met the two beautiful hosts, Jennifer McMahan and Neena Kalasho, before and when I saw them again I was instantly relaxed and at ease. We had such fun that it felt like we were just some girlfriends that got together to chat. And chat we did. And laugh and joke and best of all, talk fashion!
I am very happy my English didn’t cause too much trouble. But watching the video I can’t help but think I was really having a bad hair day! And my usual weekday schedule of not getting enough sleep probably didn’t help my image either. I prefer to see myself in a photo rather than a video because my face looks weird when I am talking. Of course, my husband didn’t see any of these flaws. I really do need to get him some new glasses. Well, on second thought, maybe not! 😉
You can watch the whole episode here. But below is my segment if you don’t have the whole 30 minutes to spare!
This year one of my goals for my blog is to promote many local fashion events and designers. You can also watch here where I was mentioned in a radio interview. It was so good to be recognized by others for what I’m trying to do. So let’s see. Radio? Check. TV? Check. Hmmm, guess I need to head to Hollywood!
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