CYNTHIA ALTORISO: In a sentence or two, tell us what you do.
ELLEN CHRISTINE: I am a milliner, with a background in costume history, and costumes, and baking, and writing, and lecturing my interns.
How did you discover your talent?
Genetics, with a propensity in our household to creative engagement on a continuous basis… art, craft and fashion was happening all the time. My grandmother sewed, my Mom was a model, and we were always making things. It was a very involved beginning with traces of the Girl Scouts, parochial school, summer camps, and my great group of friends. We were always cooking up something to make.
Tell us about early influences re what you do.
Catholic church in the 1950’s and 60’s required women to wear hats. This marked the beginning of my fascination with hats, fashion, and dressing up on a regular basis. Sunday was the only day we were allowed out of uniform, so we planned all week long what to wear. Hats were our little, not too pre-pubescent accessorizing, even before our first high heels.
Tell us about an early creation…one of your first works.
The first piece I was requested to build was for a theatre piece I was costuming. It was a gladiator’s helmet. It was a comedy, thank God, so anything would have worked . Word got out that I could do such things, and there you have it.
Who is your client or market….who buys you?
Upper theatricals. That is to say, performers, celebrities and civilians with a sense of the dramatic and the moxie to wear extraordinary headgear to many different events. From brides to winsome lassies and dandies, our customer base is varied because of the 16 years we had a retail shop, and the wonderful projects that all the magazine editors and photographers dream up for us to make.
Name some high profile projects clients.
Recently at Frieze London, in a collaboration with Nick Mauss. Another interesting collaborative effort recently at the Whitney Biennial, with Ei Arakawa. We love our artist collabs! Our work for the core group of top stylists in the fashion world keeps us always ahead of the curve, and interested in new technique, new technology, new inspiration.
Name some people you admire.
Living: Stephen Jones, the dearest man and most wonderful artist milliner.
Roberto Alagna, an extraordinary tenor in contemporary opera.
Betsey Johnson, for her gumption, verve and esprit de vivre.
Anna Wintour, for working with the Metropolitan Museum to keep the costume department alive and well.
My brothers, for being there.
Do you have a favorite tool?
Do you have a favorite color?
Do you listen to particular music while in your workplace?
Never. I need quiet. At the most, classical music or opera to lift the spirit and create a creative arc.
Are drop- ins welcome?
Our showroom/studio is by appointment only, so we can get work done. We had a retail shop for 16 years, and those doors were always open to all and sundry.
Do you have rules re your workplace?
You must love dogs, fashion, and good food.
What was your most challenging project?
The hat/headpiece for Sandy Hill one year that she rode at the head of the Rose Bowl Parade. It had to breakaway, and extend to her horse’s tail. Mountains of pheasant feathers and wire structure, as lightweight as possible.
If you can choose anyone from history to do a project for or with, who would it be?
Madame Schiaparelli, Cecile Beaton, Rose Bertin
What places on earth call to you?
Paris, Old San Juan, the Grand Canyon, Normandy. I need old stones, rocks, mountains, cobbled streets. For some reason, old stones vibrate to me, and transmit history in a way.
Is there a particular fragrance that you love?
Always Guerlain, and now, Stephen’s (Jones) fragrances for Comme des Garcons
In a fire, what would you grab to save?
What do you do to relax?
Read, read, read. Opera, opera, opera. And lately, Outlander in any way shape or form.
What has been your favorite most beloved project to date?
Tiny fur hats for newborns in the family.
If you had to change careers, what would you do?
When you first came to town, who did you work for or with?
Independently, but for Marlene Wetherell, when she had a store uptown, and I did her millinery and restoration projects.
Do you have a good luck charm or talisman?
A mask from Antonio Lopez that hangs on our workroom wall, all seeing , all knowing, all blessing.
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