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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Ellen Christine, Hat Goddess and Best Milliner in Manhattan

The 1950’s was a decade that gave the world Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers, and Elvis Presley. Filled with post-WWII color and cartoon cultural references, it was an era of joyful fun and frivolous invention. Born into this decade of percolating popular culture, Ellen Christine learned Craft and Art at home. Beginning with dolls clothes and continuing an ingenious ongoing career of entrepreneurial endeavors, she and her girlfriends produced neighborhood fairs, sold products of their own design and manufacture door to door, and worked with local charities, all before the age of 12.

While at the University of Puerto Rico for undergraduate studies in Humanities, Ellen opened her first retail store: a boutique that carried a full line of hippy regalia. The shirts, bloused, pants and dress lines were made in house, all original design, cut from Indian bedspreads for their lightness and pattern.

After the BA from the UPR, it was off to the School of Fashion Design on Newbury Street for fine tuning and expansion. Hats happened on the road with a costume gig. The word got out and designer friends approached Ellen for pieces to accessorize their collections.

It was Florence Muller, the Doyenne of Mode in Paris who gave Ellen the advice that led her to the graduate program at NYU, for a degree in Costume History. Continuous work in the field as a freelancer (pre-MTV music videos, styling and costume) all over the East coast and beyond made a home-base a necessity, and so the Chelsea shop was born. Ellen Christine Millinery is now the darling of the fashion world, and is the go-to place for hats for stylists, editors and designers. With a satellite atelier in the rear and a showplace display for the 5 plus collections per year, the shop partners with the small and the might to get hats on heads.  We have previously featured Ellen Christine in Top it Off.

As the Master Milliner for the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic 2010, Ellen Christine Millinery hosted a press party, designed hats galore for the event revelers, and appeared on The Today Show, all in the name of hats.  And of course, at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, Peachy Deegan wore a hat by Ellen Christine, and got a ton of compliments.  She wore:

Currently in collaboration with Henri Bendel, Ellen Christine hopes to bring a hat revolution to America, and persuade generations of the hatless to join in the party.

Look for her work in Vogue Magazine, and in this season’s David Tutera’s “My Fair Wedding”. From Brides to Just Plain Beautiful , Ellen Christine makes hats for heads everywhere.  We are so pleased to present her as our latest Mover and Shaker!  

Peachy Deegan interviewed Ellen Christine for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: As a child, what were your favorite crafts and designs to make?
Ellen Christine: Potholders, for a start.......we did baskets.....ceramics..........aprons(that was for a Girl Scout badge), lamps made from popsicle sticks (such early recyclers we were), marbleized paper, beads, beads, beads.....

Do you still have them?
I hope not

What was Newbury Street like when you were there? Peachy used to live on the cross street of Newbury and another in Boston...
Gay. Copley Square was crossroads to the gay community. Louis was down the street, and we would walk in in reverence, to look at the Italian clothing. No one ventured into the South End, but the North End was hip and cool, also gay. Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market were our mainstays for hanging out.....oysters and beer outside at stalls watching the tourists. the design atmosphere was liberal, and our teachers were the creme.......small classes, intensive, non-indulgent training, and our strict headmaster, the Director, Mr. A.

What should people know about your hats that most do not?
We craft with care and great attention to detail. In NYC. Constantly.......we make new hats every single day.....what a blast!

What should people know about the history of costume design?
If more out there paid just a little bit of attention to the past, the present might make a little bit more sense, and the future would be accepted with alacrity.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only 5 hats, which ones would they be and why?
Let's assume there are birds on that island, and their feathers are fabulous....I think I'd need only three:..I'd want a good basic straw (my version of The Open Road), to wear while I was weaving the next one from the palm fronds found on the island.  I'd want a cloth something with a brim, to use as a bucket for seafood finds. I'd want an old WWI or WWII army helmet to use as a pot for cooking, hauling water, whatever (even as a block for that straw I'd be eternally weaving). Everything else I could concoct from found ingredients.

Who would you like to design hats for that you have not yet designed hats for?
Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren

What clients have been the most fun to work with and why?
People who have "problems" with hats.....watching the dawn of reason descend upon their features when they put a hat on, and love it, is priceless.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in hat design?
It has to be the first headpiece I made........a gladiators helmet made from ingredients found at an army navy supply, a hardware store,and a car upholsery factory, while on the road with a theatre worked!!! Thank God it was a comedy.

Has anyone asked for a hat that is impossible to do, and if not, what have been some of your more challenging experiences? 
Hats are made from materials that have certain qualities. When people want those materials to possess different qualities, it's difficult. and it happens every day. We can't change metaphysics.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
Graduate school, and time spent in France, where excellence is demanded, expected, and appreciated.

What are you proudest of and why? 
I'm proudest of the juggling act I manage to achieve..... to run a small business in NYC

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
Open and head a design school in Puerto Rico

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
Do we start with Girl Scouts? In the past two years I've been awarded the first two annual Hatty Awards from Hat Life ......I consider the honor of being included in major fashion shoots every day by the top photographers, editors and stylists in the industry a very huge, satisfying award.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Does Governor's Island count as Manhattan?

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
Henri Bendel

What is your favorite drink? 
Krug champagne

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
My little local Cocotero..........Venezuelan heaven

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
Caleb Carr's The Alienist

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
A corner anywhere in the old millinery district, to be with the ghosts, and to help keep it alive

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Running on the Hudson river Parkway, when it wasn't there yet

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Macy's fireworks on the Fourth of July

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
The Metropolitan Opera: Roberto Alagna in Carmen.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
The most underrated in NYC is the day -to -day- hustle -and- bustle, sit -in- a- park -and- watch- it- all- for- that is duplicated no where else in the world! That, and our small boutiques that add interest and distinction to the New York Experience. Overrated? The big box stores that are taking over the landscape.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
DAYLIGHT, and in particular the coverage by Whom You Know of the VCPC......the day after the event I read your coverage just to see what had been happening around're throrough, amusing, and accurate to a T!  Here it is:

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
One little known fact is that I'm Puerto Rican on my father's side, so I can whoop it up in Spanish!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
At the Chelsea store, of course, when they come in to buy a hat!

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