Cassandra MacGregor, milliner and owner of The House of MacGregor in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas, talks New York, family, vintage lace, happy customers, color palates and Japan.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka. All photos courtesy of Cassandra.
You’re from Dallas, but you studied millinery at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. You quit your office job after completing your studies and spent 5 years learning from and making hats with theatrical milliners on Broadway, fashion show hat suppliers and couturiers. What are some of the most important lessons that you learned during that time?
How important it is to work for other people! What I learned from the millinery classes I took is so scant compared to what I learned working under these talented people who had been making hats for so much longer than me.
Your designs have appeared in W, Italian Vogue, D Magazine, and many more publications. What are some of your proudest moments/biggest accomplishments as a milliner?
The W cover was my first big boost to let me (and my supportive friends and family) know that I was moving in the right direction and to stay on this path. My proudest moments though are when my customers come to pick up their custom hats and they love them. When they so obviously feel good in them, I know I did my job well.
You moved back to Dallas in 2008 and opened your own shop. What prompted the move and what are some of the biggest differences between working in New York and working in Dallas?
I moved back to Dallas to be closer to my family again. I had been gone for 8 years and am so fortunate to have a grandmother who is 95 and still here. This also is a much friendlier market to start a new business in.
The majority of my New York business has been cocktail hats while Dallas is all fedoras and newsboys. I don’t think there is a culture yet in Big D where putting on some veiling for an evening out feels natural.
One of the biggest rewards is working so directly with my customers and putting a look together that expresses them. I am also not a numbers person and am surprised how satisfying it is to balance my accounts every month.
The most challenging aspect is that you are doing everything. Marketing, sales, inventory, the books…you juggle so many balls at once!
What is your all-time favorite millinery project that you’ve completed?
I have a dear customer who is a burlesque dancer in New York. She will come in with outfits she is working on or dances she created and we will come up with hats to finish the look. A felt teapot cocktail hat down to some nude colored veiling with rhinestones, she lets me explore my more creative side.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
For designer fashion I am loving Marc Jacobs right now. All those ruffles and long skirts, I think they are flattering and whimsical at the same time. I just met an amazing artist the other day named Magda Berlinger who creates true art out of vintage lace pieces. Each one is unique and so gorgeous on.
I have a great archive of vintage hat books that I thumb through every season or when I am stuck on an idea. I also visit museums if I need to refresh my color palate. I follow the fashion trends to make sure my hats are wearable with the clothes people are buying.
What does the future hold for The House of MacGregor?
I would like to start selling my hats in Japan within the next year or two. They are avid hat wearers! I will probably maintain my second floor retail space; it gives me a lot more flexibility than a traditional store would to work on my pieces. I will continue to source high quality materials to keep making my hats a step above what you would find in a traditional store.
Houston based fashion designer Amberry Jam sits down to talk petticoats, millinery, bobby pins, Velcro, and her Classic Harlequin line.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka Photos: Compliments of Amberry Jam
Q: You studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and then relocated to Houston to study costume design, right? On your website you state that there’s no reason that fashion and costumes should be kept separate. Tell us more about this philosophy.
Yes! Studying fashion made me feel very boxed in. It’s actually a boring field unless you work in a high end avant-garde fashion house, which very few people do. I started studying costume design as a back up and it changed my life. Entering the theater crowd introduced me to people who wanted to push boundaries on a daily basis and not just special occasions, and it’s contagious! I want to bring that fun ‘it’s my birthday, I’m wearing a tiara and glitter’ attitude to every day, and to help others do the same.
Q: Your website says that you believe that everyone should own at least one petticoat. Please share your ideas on the importance/versatility of the petticoat.
Oh they’re the best! There’s something about the gathering of tulle or lace around your body that is just so pretty. Maybe it’s the way it bounces around you when you walk; it just makes you happy. And they look fantastic with almost any outfit, alone or layered under or over a dress. I even wear them when I go to festivals or camping- they’re cute and I have a cushion no matter where I sit!
Q: You started studying millinery in your work in Houston theaters, correct? How long have you been studying and making hats?
I actually took an intro to millinery class in 2006 and fell in love with it. Those kinds of classes are few and far between though so I bought a few books and taught myself as much as I could. It was working under the craftmaster at the Alley Theater when I really flourished. We worked on Our Town and had to research, design, and create 20-something hats in 2 weeks. It was hard work but really rewarding.
Q: The majority of your work is custom orders, but you actually prefer that, don’t you?
Yes. Whether it’s a hat, pasties, or a full costume, I love being challenged and custom work definitely does that. And it’s always different. It might be bringing to life a customer’s sketch, creating a hat for an existing costume, or just being given a theme and getting to present your ideas for it. It keeps my work fun and introduces me to so many interesting people.
Q: There are tons of local costume designers, burlesque performers, and models who love DIY fashion and making hats and costumes. Given your design experience, what do you consider to be the most common costuming/hat-making errors that you’ve seen in the industry? In your opinion, what makes a bad costume or hat “bad”?
Too many bobby pins! Please attach an inner comb or headband! I once saw a beautiful silk and felt floral cocktail hat with at least 8 pins in holding it down. It completely overwhelmed the hat which is so sad because she clearly put a lot of work into it. For burlesque costumes, if you’re going to use Velcro, I think you should dye it to match the fabric. Even in large theaters, you can see that strip of fuzzy white from the back row. It might just be for a second, but anything that draws the eye away from you is bad.
Q: When did you release your Classic Harlequin line? What are your goals for Classic Harlequin (and beyond, for that matter)?
Classic-Harlequin.com was launched in October as my ‘ready to wear’ line. I wanted to create a line of hats that could be incorporated into your daily wear so that it no longer looks like daily wear. I’m so happy that it’s been well received by the retro and burlesque crowd, including the Pin-Up Society. That’s a group of girls who know how to dress (and drink!). I’m hoping that it continues to be successful and fuels interest in my custom and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
Yes. Custom work is temporarily on hold until July. I’m touring a few art and music festivals in California this summer to sell my hats and spread the word about the south’s growing burlesque scene. But people can still see a gallery of past work, join my mailing list, or request work for when I get back by going to classic-harlequin.com or sending an email to AmberryJam@gmail.com.