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Rising Stars: Meet Laura Del Villaggio

Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Del Villaggio.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I’ve lived in Austin off and on since 1987. I left twice and moved back twice. The second move was to New York City in 1997 to attend graduate school at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I spent two years in a Master’s program for Museum Studies: Costumes & Textiles and because I couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity, I also enrolled in an undergraduate accessories design program for millinery. I had been wearing hats since my early teen years and really wanted to study hat making. It ended up being the perfect combination of fashion, art, handwork and history. I earned a Certificate in Millinery from FIT in 1999 at the same time I finished up my historical fashion and curatorial studies. I moved back to Austin in 2001 and officially launched my millinery business in 2004, after participating in an open designer call at The Garden Room. Designing under the label Milli Starr, I am known for exquisite craftsmanship and a vintage-inspired elegance that complements a modern wardrobe. Original hats have been spotted in numerous print publications, on the runway, stage, and screen, and at horse races around the world. Millinery has been my full-time focus since 2012. I enjoy making hats for clients, as well as teaching both group and private classes including a new 80 hr millinery certificate program through Continuing Education’s Fashion Design Department at Austin Community College.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It has been interesting to both watch and participates in the US hat industry over the past 20 years. In the early days, it really felt like millinery was a dying art and hats were only worn by a niche demographic. It was challenging to find my customer (or for her to find me). The market really changed for the better around 2010-11 and contributing factors were the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, celebrities wearing hats in traditional press and on social media, and increased attendance at horse racing events like the Kentucky Derby. Because hats are no longer part of everyday dress as they were in the 1950s, many people don’t know how to properly wear or care for them. A big component of my job as a milliner has always been education: teaching my clients how to wear a hat, how to evaluate fit, how to travel with a hat, etc. It’s rewarding to see someone “fall for hats.” They are a transformative accessory and can really compete a look in a way that shoes or a handbag never will. I don’t think dressing up will ever go out of style.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a master milliner. Traditionally, a “milliner” makes women’s hats and headwear while a “hatter” makes men’s hats. I have earned the “master” qualification because I possess over 20 years of experience and can work with a range of styles and materials at the highest level of couture craftsmanship. One of the unique things I bring to millinery is my background in fashion history and textile science. I really understand how various textiles will behave in a dye bath or when steamed to shape them over a wooden hat block. I use small curved surgical needles to make my stitching invisible, a tool borrowed from my textile conservation training. Furthermore, my love for millinery is aligned with my love of history – the art of hat making has changed very little over time. It’s still steam + handwork. I am really proud to have built an award-winning hat brand with an international reputation. HATalk magazine (UK) awarded me 2nd place and 3rd place prizes in their international millinery competition in 2019 and 2015. Both years, I was the only participating American milliner to be recognized. I also have a “Trailblazer” award from Austin Fashion Week in recognition of my contributions to the local fashion industry. One of the highlights of my career occurred in 2019 when a Derby client, who also has a horse farm in Kentucky, named a new filly “Milli Starr.” The thoroughbred racehorse has won two of her nine starts.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I love the vibrancy of Austin. It’s always been a fun mix of students, artists, musicians, creatives and entrepreneurs. There are three things I dislike about Austin: cedar pollen, hot summers and the lack of affordability. I wish the City of Austin would work harder to ensure that there are affordable commercial and residential spaces for all of the talented people who contribute to Austin culture.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Peter Tung Photography Sarlea Mah Rachel Ann Jensen

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