Neil Grigg is to Australian millinery what Alex Perry is to Australian fashion. Both are icons in their industry and both have dressed Australia’s A-list.
As he moves between each of the six milliners, tape measure hanging around his neck and reading glasses perched on his smooth head (another Perry similarity?), he offers bursts of “Griggism”, statements delivered with his trademark quirky sense of humour and flamboyance.
“It doesn’t matter where you start with inspiration for a hat, it’s what you end up with that counts.” … “Whoever taught you that was rubbish.” … “It’s gorgeous.” … “I’d have that in my shop.”
For the record, Grigg’s shop is in William Street, Paddington. From July each year he focusses on creating stunning hats and head pieces for Australian celebrities and racing identities attending the Spring Carnival in Melbourne. Plus, at any time, clients can be looking for a hat for a variety of functions. “I love it when they surprise me,” he says. “I remember this client who came in and said she was going to a cocktail party in May/June. I said, well you’ll want something in a heavier fabric and she said, ‘oh no, the party’s in New York’. I loved that … see, Sydney IS on the way to everywhere!”
When not attending to Australia’s A-list, Grigg can be found in all corners of the country conducting masterclasses for milliners keen to learn more.
“It’s not just sit down and we all make the same hat. These people have a brain,” he jokes.
“These people” include host Sandy Aslett (Hats by Sandy A)* and five women who have travelled from Emerald, Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Brisbane and Clunes in northern New South Wales to spend four days working with and absorbing as much as possible from Grigg. Most are making four or five hats across the weekend.
Wherever he goes, his most asked questions is, “how do you come up with your ideas?”.
Thankfully he humours me …
“I’m know I’m not allowed to say, ‘if you drink enough red wine …’,” he laughs. “The reality is I’ve been making hats for 30 years. You play with stuff and if you understand what it’s doing, then you can let the fabric or straw ‘tell you’ what it wants to do.”
Neil Grigg’s top tips for autumn/winter racing fashions on the field:
1. If you’re heading to the races in autumn or winter, then the fabric on your hat should be the same weight as your clothes. Think felt and velvets. “See-through straw is a no, no.”
2. The current trend is for smaller hats. “In Queensland we’ll still see a lot of bigger hats … Queensland girls love a big hat.”
3. If your dress is making a big statement then don’t try and compete with that in your hat – and vice versa.
4. Include gloves, hoisery and winter-style shoes to complete your winning outfit.
5. Have fun with it!
*Sandy Aslett is a milliner with a growing reputation for creating stunning hats and head pieces which turn heads all around Australia. She has studied previously under Grigg, as well as with milliner Louise Macdonald. “I try to create pieces that embrace trends and themes before they reach the mainstream. Studying under these high profile milliners is a privilege,” says Sandy, who has this year been accepted into the Millinery Association of Australia. Sandy intends for the Neil Grigg masterclass to become an annual event.