When it comes to dressing up, how over-the-top would you go? That outfit and fancy shoes is not complete without a hat to top it all off, or so goes the philosophy of Hive Mind Millinery.
By Jenica Chuahiock
No wonder the local news and fashion scene is buzzing about hats as milliner Dominique Hanke sets a new standard for being dressed up. Whether you’ve seen her on newspapers, or perhaps briefly on the television, Dominique Hanke of Hive Mind Millinery is never without one of her quaint hats. “Honestly, hats is just something I’ve always loved,” says Hanke. “I’m a firm believer of dress head-to-toe, and I like what hats bring to an outfit. To me, an outfit that does not consider the top of your head is basically an unfinished look.”
Hanke’s perspective on fashion and hats opens a whole new level of styling. To call her craft as merely “hat making” is as much an understatement as calling Picasso a doodler. As a milliner, Hanke weighs in on the art of working with your most important body feature: your face. “It’s all about balancing the face,” says Hanke. “When it comes to hats, you have to be careful with your facial features, while at the same time taking in to account your height and breadth. You have to make sure your are not making more of a feature you don’t want to, while also complimenting the features you want to.” Face shapes, body shapes, eyes, cheekbones, nose, neck and the list goes on for the styling puzzle of milliners, proving that hats aren’t just about protecting your head from the weather. “As far as fashion goes,” adds Hanke, “it’s definitely an eye-pull accessory. If you wear a big brooch on your blazer, people are going to notice that on your blazer. If you wear a big belt buckle, people will notice that on your belt as well. And if you wear a hat, people will look back up to your face, which is honestly where you want their eyes to be.”
Hats as eye-pull accessories, indeed! If you have chanced upon a Hive Mind Millinery hat, you would have marveled at the array of designs that range from the classic felt bowler or ribbon sunhat, to the outlandish headpiece of mesh and animal bones. Then you would wonder, what goes on in this designer’s “hive mind”? “Being interested in fashion, I’ve kind of prided myself in not always following trends. Rather, I would work with trends and come up with something I am interested in”, says Hanke. Like a colony of bees, always buzzing with activity, Hanke’s creative process involves various little things and thoughts that make up a complexity.
“There’s lots going on in my head when I make a collection, and so many things vary!” says Hanke. It could begin with any random moment or thought, or one image of a design, like the look of a flower that needs to replicated, or the feel of a fabric in one’s hands. And from there, it goes on and on until a collection is made. “Most of my collections begin with one hat,” explains Hanke, “and that would be the inspiration: why not make it so much more, why not make it grow? From there, I could easily get carried away…”
Today, Hanke is one of the more active milliners in the Vancouver fashion scene. Her brand, Hive Mind Millinery, has come a long way from being just a hobby; and even before that, Hanke could trace the origins of her passion back to the daydreams of her childhood in Kinver, a little town in Staffordshire, England. “From just being a kid, I have always loved hats,” says Hanke. “I went through the big department stores to try on the big hats. The bigger, the better! It’s something I’ve tried to incorporate in all my outfits.”
It was not just the shopping adventures that were the tell-tale signs of a budding designer. Having frequently pored through her mother’s closet, full of Chanel designs and all, a young Hanke was introduced to the romance that begins with a sophisticated outfit. Other than that, she and her mother captivated themselves with old period-drama shows, most specially the House of Elliot, a show about two sisters (always in gorgeous outfits and hats!) determined to start a fashion house in 1920’s London—perhaps, a foreshadowing of her own future in fashion. The popular show ended with the sisters getting married, to which, Hanke laughs, “Ha! What’s the point of that?” But even at the abrupt end of her favorite drama, Hanke continued to fantasize and sketch beautiful ladies in long tulip dresses, silken bodices and long feathered chapeaus (“My favorite part of the sketch! I loved doing those feathers…”, comments Hanke).
However, even with potential, dreams are never easy. Like many misguided youths, Hanke’s ambitions to be a designer had its obstacles. In what she described as an “attempt to a practical approach”, Hanke decided to pursue architecture with the hopes of making a living. “That was me trying to be sensible, I think”, explains Hanke. “I have always been very heavily into art and design. So when it came to career choices, it’s kind of tricky. I went through a very structured education system, which was unbending in the notion that art is for drop-outs. I was told that I would end up with nothing. As a creative individual, it is heart breaking. And yet, I can’t be an engineer, or a lawyer, or a doctor. It’s just not me.”
Hanke recalled having a long “cut-and-dry” talk with her father about the future, and for a while she was convinced of architecture as a career. “At that time, to me it made sense,” admitted Hanke. “I do have a love for architecture. At the age of fourteen, I decided I was going to be an architect. So I went off and got some experience in architectural firms. It was so much fun, mostly because I was working in London…” Up until then, Hanke had been a country girl; and the grand opportunity to work in London excited her, and the path seemed relatively straight-forward. “I could go to a university of architecture, get a degree, and in the end come out an architect. Very simple,” said Hanke. “But the truth is… it just wasn’t my motivator. Architecture was too focused on structure, and I’m all about sketching ideas and not be constrained. It just doesn’t connect with me.”
It was not until years later, when Hanke and her family moved to Vancouver, Canada that she found her way back to designing. “When my daughter was three years-old, I started to think, ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ And Vancouver is definitely a city of opportunity”, says Hanke, who was so amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of Vancouver. “In Vancouver, if you want to do something, you can do it and pursue it. It was the first time I was ever really in an environment like that! After 2-3 years of investigating, millinery became more than a hobby for me. I wanted to start my own business; this is what I wanted to do. I went for it, and the reaction I got was so huge compared to what I was expecting!”
The overwhelming support Hanke received, especially from female entrepreneurs like herself and the sisters in House of Eliott, was enough to power her through to start her own brand. “The support from people within the industry was amazing,” says Hanke, “All of a sudden, I’m meeting and talking to people who know who I am and my business. To just being able to get that kind of reaction from people within the industry was just mind-blowing. Two years ago, it was just a dream. Now, it’s happened.”
Hanke is now happily living her fashionable life in Vancouver, along with raising a beautiful family. Sitting with her during our interview, where we could hear her children playing close-by, and where I could see her studio filled with hat-blocks, fabrics and feathers, has made me come to appreciate the distances she powered through. So I had to ask her, “Did you think it was worth it, to go for a “practical approach” instead of doing millinery?”
“Honestly,” sighed Hanke. “If I could do it all over again, I would not have done my degree in architecture. I should have stood up for myself a bit more. It was a waste of time… and money! If I could, I would have done fashion instead, because I really wanted to…” But who knows how differently things could have been then. Perhaps it was not the right time, she thought. Moreover, now that all has been said and done, Hanke concludes with what she has come to learn all these years, “It’s tough being a creative,” she says, “Especially since you have to realize that you are not going to be a multi-millionaire from being a designer. That’s very rare. But there is an opportunity out there: If you are passionate enough, you can make a business, and make it work. Because a certain happiness in life is more important anyway.”
Want to hear a funny story from Dominique Hanke’s childhood? Read it here.