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Violet Peacock and the (Not So) Lost Art of Millinery

Lindsay Halpin teaches a new generation of Houstonians how to look fantastic in a hat.

By Sarah Gabbart November 4, 2013

Lindsay Halpin landed on the art of millinery after her fashion classes at Houston Community College left her looking for more of a challenge. With a love of vintage and a knack for learning the history-heavy techniques of this lost art, she created Violet Peacock, an amalgamation of her favorite color and favorite animal. Four years later her business is still going strong, giving her the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind, often avant-garde hats for a variety of clients.  

Lindsay entertains a happy customer at the Houston Vintage Festival.

How and why did you start experimenting with hat making? 
I have always been very much a hat and hair accessory wearer. While studying fashion design, I got the urge to try something few people were doing at the time—something more challenging and therefore more interesting for me. I get bored if things are too easy. I spent a summer learning the basics and then began experimenting on my own.

Have you always worked in clothing and design or was this a career change for you?
My past career as a bioarchaeologist is often surprising. I was lucky enough to work for the British Museum for a summer and go digging in Pompeii. I studied fashion design after I moved to Houston [in 2006]. I studied theater at college level and always focused on costume. I have been sewing and working with costumes most of my life, either for friends or school productions. 

Photo by Monica Kressman

I'm so lucky to get to do what I love for a job and I try never to forget that. I'm grateful everyday to all the people I've met in Houston over the past seven years who have helped Violet Peacock get to where it is today. No small business survives without help and support from those around it and I'm lucky enough to say I have some really great supporters and friends around me.

If you had to pinpoint the most important moment in Violet Peacock history, what would it be? 
There have been so many amazing moments, but if I had to pick a couple I would say my first opportunity to show as a milliner and recognition from the city. Dawn Bell, of Coronation Vintage, asked me to make hats and headpieces for her runway show for the very first Houston Vintage [Festival]. I had only been designing and making hats for a couple of months, she took a huge risk on me and I've never forgotten that. I have so much to thank her for.

The other was being recognized as Houston Accessories Designer of the Year as part of the RAW Awards last November. It was a great honor to be voted for by friends, family, and everyone in Houston. It made every second of hard work worth it and I am so thankful to everyone who has supported me and feel so lucky to live in a city where a designer can be recognized and valued. 

Photo by Mauro Luna.

What significant challenges have you faced (or do you face) in your business?
The economy isn't friendly to anyone with a small business right now, and while people need clothes, it's harder to convince people they need hair accessories. I also fight against the fact that the US is generally a very relaxed, informal kind of place, especially Texas. It can be difficult to persuade someone that they will look spectacular in a custom made headpiece and that it really will complete an outfit for a special event. Some people do not see the artistry and handwork in my pieces when there are so many cheap, mass-produced products available. I guess it is something that every designer faces. It is the difference between a piece that is truly designed and handmade and something that is hot-glued together in a factory overseas.

I really want to try and show people that there is a reason millinery is still around after all this time. I also like to show the people who say. "I look stupid in hats" that they just haven't tried the right one yet. It's for this reason I've started to dip my feet into teaching a few millinery workshops. If I can get more people interested in the real deal millinery, then a whole generation will maybe start to change how it thinks about millinery as a whole and choose to invest in something that will last long enough to become vintage. Also, millinery is a dying art and I feel the need to keep the skills and techniques alive and well.

Lindsay at the Houston Vintage Festival. Photo by Walter Rodriguez.

Who is your ideal customer and what are you best sellers?
Millinery is still a hard sell to a lot of people, especially in the US. Many people just don't wear hats and headpieces anymore. I make myself accessible to all groups of people, all audiences and view everyone as a potential client. I'm equally comfortably working on high-end commissions for ladies going to the opera or Hats in the Park as I am working on costume pieces for burlesque performers. I teach myself new skills constantly so I'm able to take on new work all the time (such as custom masks for masquerade balls) and I can show variety to future clients when they see my portfolio.   

The small studded fascinator disks do very well because they are easy to wear and a good "starter" piece if you are just beginning your collection. My larger saucer shaped fascinators are my most requested custom order, the shape is asymmetric and worn to the side of the head, which is almost universally flattering on everyone, plus it can be decorated in a hundred different ways so no two are ever the same. 

Where can people buy Violet Peacock hats/fascinators?
I sell via my website and via Etsy. I also pop up at various events around the city, which I post about on the Violet Peacock Facebook page. I also take custom orders. 


Photo by Decca Photography

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