Burlesque, Rosie Derriere and Me.
I am often asked how I got started in the world of millinery, and why I wanted to make hats in particular. At first, I had to really think about it… It has been such a long and winding path, how did I end up here??? But on reflection, I think I can take it right back to a starting point in December 2006…
I watched a programme on Channel 4 called ‘Faking It’ which was a series that each week, took a member of the general public completely out of their comfort zone and away from anything familiar. It gave them intense training for a matter of weeks in a particular area of expertise, culminating in a challenge where they had to pass themselves off as an expert in that field, surrounded by people who really were experts in that field!
This particular Christmas, the programme took a shy, self-conscious lady from Wales, Sharon Pallister, and with the help of Immodesty Blaize, Wayne Sleep and Dita Von Teese, gradually managed to make a burlesque performer out of her. I identified with Sharon so much, as she described her self-loathing and how she felt invisible the majority of the time. As we watched, this self-confessed wall-flower blossomed into burlesque entertainer, ‘Scarlet Fever’!
This was the first time I had even heard of burlesque, but WOW! - the glamour, the style, the sassiness all spoke to me. I really wanted to learn more, so I was on a mission for information to discover what it was all about. I started to go to burlesque events and entered a whole new world. The audience were dressed up in the most amazing outfits and here was such a friendly, accepting crowd, a place where anything goes! The women on the stage were confident, sexy, glamourous – and all shapes, types, colours, styles and sizes.
It was such a feel good environment, and such a celebration of the female form, I started to imagine what it would be like to get up on stage. I found a workshop not too far away, a six week ‘burlesque for beginners’ dance class. I was so incredibly nervous that first week! It was such good fun though, shimmying and sashaying to Imelda May’s ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’. At the end of the six weeks, we had the chance to graduate to the regular classes, and to perform at a burlesque show in Derby, to raise money for charity. And so, my new alter ego, ‘Miss Rosie Derriere’ was born!
All this was happening alongside my time as a healthcare assistant on a hospital ward in Burton on Trent, Derbyshire, my first role in a medical environment and an intense one at that. I was caring for those at the ends of their lives, a privileged position to be in, but incredibly demanding work, physically and emotionally. So as a team we worked hard and played hard. It was a real time of self-discovery for me, learning who I am as a person and what I really wanted from life.
My days of performing were not of any great length. I am definitely a visual artist more than performing artist, but without it, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. Being 'Rosie Derriere' for a while - where for once I wasn't the quiet, sensible one! - was a fabulous time, and she's always there with me still, deep down! With burlesque comes style and glamour. Whether you are a performer or a member of the audience, having fun with costume and clothes is definitely encouraged, if not an absolute necessity! With a large vintage influence, hats and headpieces are regularly featured, so to really top off my outfit, I had to start thinking about what to wear and really go to town. So often I had a very definite outfit in my mind, and corsets, skirts, heels, I was spoilt for choice, but for headpieces I would struggle to find anything close. On the high street or online, if I did manage to find something, it would only be available in very restricted colours, and only on a comb, which wouldn’t be any good in my hair, so I had to think of something else… My creative side had its chance to break out and let loose!
I started to create pieces for myself, then for friends and colleagues and I just couldn’t stop! I opened a little Etsy shop and started selling on there. It wasn’t long before I had my first sale. It was an amazing feeling when members of the general public wanted to pay good money for the items I was making, and such a wonderful thing to receive positive feedback. I developed different styles and learned new skills. Gradually as the pull of burlesque started to fade a little for me, millinery in general, emerged as my real interest and passion. That feeling of self-expression, confidence and freedom could still be achieved, at nights out, weddings, parties – any occasion, who needs an excuse?! Just by dressing up a little, and donning a gorgeous headpiece, it can help us all stand a little taller, feel confident and fabulous.
That’s the feeling, the magic, that I aim to help each of my customers to feel. Life can be hard, and time so pressured that now and again it is so good to take time to pause, bring a little glamour into our lives, put on a fascinator and shimmy to our heart's content.