Milliner Monique Lee decided to create a miniature world – on the top of her hats.
Using Lego figures, her quirky hats feature wedding days, racing tracks and landscape gardening.
They went down a storm at Ascot and were featured in many glossy magazines, leading to her winning the People’s Choice Award in VOGUE VTalents competition earlier this year.
“I’ve always loved hats,” says Monique, 32, who lives in Northfield, Birmingham, with her husband Nicholas Hylands-White, a specialist in pain management.
“But there’s not really a culture of wearing hats in Taiwan where I was born and grew up.
“It was only after I got married to Nicholas and we started going to weddings that I realised people in England love wearing hats.”
Monique studied fashion at the London College of Fashion and the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), Birmingham City University, which is where she met Nicholas.
“I really like the lifestyle here and the countryside,” says Monique, who is now also works as a fashion PhD researcher and visiting lecturer at BIAD.
“Also, there are so many creative people in Birmingham who have approached me and been really nice, helping me with photography and so on.”
It was an advert for Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo that gave Monique the inspiration for her unusual Lego hats.
“Uniqlo were using time-shift photography, where things are photographed from above over a long period of time,” explains Monique, who works from her millinery studio at her home in Northfield.
“When you see the image from high above, it makes the subject look miniature.
“I thought how can I create a miniature scene on a hat? I realised I could create anything with Lego.
“I wore my hat to Royal Ascot and I was constantly photographed. Everyone wanted to see it and touch it.”
Having graced many newspaper and magazine pages, Monique’s next big break came when she was asked to design a hat for fashionista Maya Williams, founder of Fashion Lollipop.
“Maya Williams contacted me on Twitter, saying she liked my hats and asked if I could create something really special for her to wear to Ascot,” explains Monique, whose latest collection is inspired by architecture.
“Most hats are made from a material called sinamay which is restricted to just 50 colours, you just cannot get it in any other colour.
“I decided I wanted to make her a hat in neon colours to match her bright personality. But neon colours are not normally used on hats so I had to layer colours to create new ones.
“She loved it, and designed herself a white dress to wear with it as she wanted the hat to stand out properly.”
The lollipop hat took around 18 hours to create but it normally takes Monique between seven and eight hours to make a hat, depending on what's involved.
“I try to make all my hats really different,” says Monique, who handcrafts all her hats herself.
“I don’t use traditional materials so the length of time it takes to make can really depend on what I’m doing.”
Monique exhibited her work at Birmingham Made Me last year, which was very well received. And her next big project is more of a personal one.
“Nicholas and I got married at Birmingham Registry Office in March last year,” explains Monique, who was asked by handmade boutique website Etsy to exhibit at London Hat Week earlier this year.
“My parents couldn’t make it over from Taiwan for the wedding so we’re having a big celebration they are coming to in July.
“I’ve said the dress code is everyone has to wear a hat!
“I shall be making a hat for my mum and for Nick’s mum too. I made her hat for our wedding last year.
“And, of course, I’ll have to make a hat for myself too, which I always find the most difficult thing to do.”
* To find out more, visit www.moniqueleemillinery.com
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