Petra Kvarčáková is one of the few professional milliners in the Czech Republic. She learned the craft in Britain – among others she studied with the legendary milliner of the Queen Mother, Rose Cory. A few years ago, she established her own brand called La Modista- offering tailor-made hats of all kinds of materials and styles. When I met with Petra Kvarčáková, I first asked what attracted her to the millinery craft:
“I was fascinated by it. I was studying jewellery at Saint Martins, and I thought: Where can I go next? What to do? And at that time, hats came into fashion, or rather, I noticed them at that time. So I started to make them and I had a very inspiring teacher and I completely fell in love.”
One of your teachers was Rose Cory, the legendary milliner of the Queen Mother. What was she like as a teacher?
“She is brilliant. She is the kind of teacher you just love to work with. She is trying to understand your idea and then she pushes you really hard to reach it. I learned to be very patient, because if something wasn’t perfect, then she would make you do it again, and again. It was brilliant.
“Of course, many people ask me about her experience with the Royal Family but she never talks about it. And generally very nice and beautiful.
How long did you actually study the craft?
“It is an ongoing process. I still go to courses. I studied for about five years with different milliners. I worked as an apprentice for other milliners and other brands.
I am still learning and discovering. Because in millinery you can use traditional techniques but you can also invent new ones. You can be creative as much as you can. You can invent new ways, new fabrics, new materials, laser cut and paint hat, so its not just a traditional hat but it can be a masterpiece.
When you were in London, you made hats for Royal Ascot or for the awarding of the Order of the British Empire. What was that experience like?
“It was fantastic, because someone trusts you that you can make something that will really suit. I worked under supervision of other milliners and the hats we created were so intricate and so elaborate and very often you feel like you want to quit and never see the hats again.
“But then, when the hat is finished, and you see it in the Royal enclosure in Ascot and you see it among the other hats of famous milliners, then you feel really proud of yourself and also of the person who wears it.
“One of my personal clients was a lady who was awarded the Order of the British Empire and I was so proud of her achievement in social services. The hat we made was a collaboration between the two of us and when she was standing in front of the Queen it was an amazing experience, and not just because of the hat. I just all goes together.”
You established your own brand La Modista while still in England. Wasn’t it more complicated than it would be here in the Czech Republic?
“I would say that in terms of the paper-work it was much easier in Britain. On the other hand, here in the Czech Republic I find that people are more open to cooperation with the designers. I know lots of textile and fashion designers and they are very keen to start working together and that’s much easier than in Britain.
“I work for instance with Ivana Rosová, who makes amazing outfits for business women, using high-quality and handmade fabric made in in Britain and France. We collaborate together in creating an amazing collection. So that’s the way it works and that’s what I find much easier here in the Czech Republic.”
Was that one of the reasons why you came back to the Czech Republic?
“The reasons for coming back were purely personal. But I was searching myself and I was trying to find out what to do and being creative and making hats is the reason why I exist. It is my purpose at the moment. So I would do it anyway and I would do it anywhere I would go.”
You were talking about fabrics. What kind of materials do you use? And where do you search for them?
“I use traditional fabrics, fur or Sinamay, which is banana leaf woven with a special technique. I also use silks and I love to dye silks with natural colors, which is why I collect fruits and barks and leaves and then use them as a color.
“Also, I love to cooperate again with fabric manufacturers. So sometimes I go to little workshops in India, in the Czech Republic or in England. I just go there, see the people who make it and then buy it off them. I much more prefer the small companies which are trying to do something really good and collaborate with them.
“I find the hat-making process really interesting. I know the people who make the fabric, I know their stories, I bring their fabric and then I cooperate with the client. I can use their ideas and add a little bit more to the hat. So it’s the cooperation of many brands and many craft.”
Are most of your hats actually tailor-made?
Yes, they are hand-made and made especially for the particular client. It’s the easiest way because when I see someone I could tell what color and shape suits you.
“Also, we make it a nice personal experience, where we would sit and have a coffee and talk about what you like and what you feel comfortable in. And together we create something that you really like and what really suits you, so you feel confident wearing it.
“That is actually a way how to make more people wearing a hat. Just to find a milliner, talk to them and then have you first hat made. You will learn how to wear it and you will get used to other people looking at you and smiling at you and then you will get used to wearing it.
Where do you find inspiration?
“The biggest inspiration is the people themselves. But I am also trying to make hats that are inspired by the 20s, 30s, or 40s and made in very simple way, so it’s wearable today. It’s much easier to wear a hat that doesn’t stand out too much, so you get used to wearing it and then you can go more flamboyant and crazy. But the personality of the wearer is always the best. Also architecture and nature are big sources of inspiration, but the personality of the wearer is the biggest source of ideas.”
Who are your typical customers? Is it mostly women?
“The typical clients used to be women from their 30s to their 60s, women who like to step out of the line, who like to feel special and also who are learning to be strong, and beautiful and proud of themselves.
“What I find is that women here in the Czech Republic are finding their inner beauty but also their femininity and power and wearing a hat is one of the steps in the process where they can step out and be proud.
“I could see women who would never ever wear a hat, even though it is so natural, and then they put it on, they suddenly stand straight and they feel much more confident. And that’s just amazing. But back to your question - nowadays, I gave about 50 percent female and 50 percent male clients.”
Do you have any idea how many professional milliners there are in the Czech Republic today?
“I know about five of them in Prague and some of them in the Czech Republic. There are quite a lot of people doing millinery courses, so I would say the profession is booming.
Can you actually make a living through millinery?
“Yes, actually I do. I am still surprised by it and I am very grateful. Yes, you can make a living out of millinery and you can find your style and customers and do whatever you enjoy doing.”