With the enormous rise of social media, Instagram is an incredible tool that has opened up so many new discoveries in terms of learning about new designers. In the case with New York City renowned milliner, Abigail Aldridge, I discovered not only an amazing designer & producer, but a new friend. Somehow, in the giant world of social media, I found her hats, and began following her millinery work. After a few months of back and forth, (and also after realizing she only lived and worked twenty minutes away) we had coffee and became instant friends.
Abigail Aldridge was born in Maine, but had always felt like she didn’t quite fit in. As soon as she finished high school early at the age of 17, she left for New York. She wasn’t sure it would work, but she got a job as an O’par. She had been to New York before, her grandmother lived in New York, and often took her to amazing places like Radio City. She fell in love and knew she wanted to be there. After having a few jobs as a waitress and sales girl, she tried to think of a suitable career option for her. Remembering that her mother taught her how to sew, she put her skills to good use, and offered herself to the Broadway theaters looking for seamstresses. She worked as a costume seamstress for 8 years, before going on to create hats independently.
LFS: When you came to New York, how did you find work?
Abigail: I decided to look at the Yellow Pages (remember those?!) and I just called down a line of broadway theaters asking if they needed help with sewing projects. The third one I called actually needed help. It was a little place in Times Square, and I was working on. I was sewing hems, and buttons, and machine sewing. I learned there how to use industrial sewing machines.
LFS: How did the idea to create a little independent hat business come about?
Abigail: Well I always loved hats, I always loved and wore vintage hats. I was always curious about them. I didn’t know about millinery stuff just yet. But, I was thinking about what I would do if I got out of the costume business. And I read an article in the New York Times about young milliners and Victoria Donardo. She had a little place in SoHo, so I thought maybe I could do the same thing sewing, so I went to work for Victoria. I learned techniques like blocking, and millinery technique, and while she worked, I watched and learned. At the time, I didn’t know if I would like it, but of course I did! I mean, how could I resist? Then I started making my own hats and I held little tea parties for my friends, and I made some money that way.
LFS: How did your once small hat business end up in department stores like Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman?
Abigail: Someone actually recommended me to Barney’s. I met with a buyer and showed them a small collection. Since I had to make large orders for the department stores, it made me more creative. I even invented a hat out of soutache. Once you’re in a big place like that, it’s easy to go other stores. I was in Henri Bendel for a while too. I also made little cocktail hats for Bergdorf’s before they had really made a comeback. Unfortunately, when Barney’s went bankrupt in the 90’s I reassessed my business, and thought it best to move to smaller boutiques.
LFS: What was one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had with your beautiful hats?
Abigail: One of my hats was photographed by Steven Meisel on Linda Evangelista, for an ad for Barney’s, and that was used as an advertisement for Barney’s that was in Vogue, and The New York Times. So that was really exciting, and it gave me a little confidence boost. I would also definitely say after the Royal Wedding, everyone was crazy about fascinators! I couldn’t believe how many people learned that word!
LFS: Now you sell to to individual boutiques all over New York! What are some of the boutiques where your hats are available for purchase?
Abigail: The Hat Shop! It’s definitely very prestigious. And Seigo New York- Madison Ave. at 90th St.
LFS: When would you say you have the most orders?
Abigail: Definitely in the spring for the Kentucky Derby, and Royal Ascot. I love creating hats for brides as well!
LFS: How many hats do you think you’ve made in your lifetime?
Abigail: I know I’ve made thousands at this point. Sometimes I’ll google my listings just to see them pop up. One of my hats will pop up as “vintage” now and again. I bought a pack of 5000 labels to add to the inside of my hats when I started, and it took me about ten years to go through that, now I’m working on another 5000 if you can believe that!
LFS: What I love so much about you, is your passion for your craft. Making hats is a loving, but time consuming practice! How long would you say it would take to make something like a simple straw sunhat?
Abigail: Well, it is my job! I would say it takes about three hours. Of course it depends entirely on the materials and style, but I would say for a simple hat, about 3 hours.
LFS: You’ve been living in Harlem for quite some time now. Where do you go in Harlem to get inspired?
Abigail: I’m actually am a singer in my church choir, Saint Aloysius . I was classically trained to sing too, but now I’m using my voice to sing for God.
LFS: What would you say to a young designer who is working out breaking out into the industry?
Abigail: It’s all about trial and error. And it takes time!
You can follow Abigail and her beautiful millinery work on Instagram here.
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