Growing up on a cane farm in Proserpine was a fabulous environment for Kerrie Stanley’s inventive mind.
“My nana lived just down the road and she was the instigator and encourager of my creativity,” Kerrie says. “She could do anything she turned her hands to – sew, knit, make flowers, the works!”
Kerrie went on to complete her schooling at Townsville’s Saint Patrick’s College on The Strand, followed by a year-and-a-half nursing stint at the Mater Hospital before realising hairdressing was her calling.
“I did one year of my apprenticeship in Townsville before moving to Brisbane where I apprenticed under an amazing hairdresser called Benni Tognini,” Kerrie recalls.
“He used to build these lavish avant-garde headpieces for shows, photo shoots and competitions and that’s where my love of millinery took root.
“He taught me about the principals of design and I came to understand that, no matter what the creative genre, when these elements aligned the result would always be pleasing.”
Now based in Melbourne, Kerrie releases two hat collections every spring–one for Myer and one for herself – and she finds inspiration everywhere.
“My eyes are open to anything… it can be the silhouette of a tree branch, the textured finish of a wall, an old op-shopped frock (for the fabric) or the dozens of books I have covering historic millinery and costume,” Kerrie says.
“I’m always on the look-out for interesting materials that I can fashion into a headpiece. I use a lot of thermoplastics –a heat-reactant bonding fabrication that’s mouldable and easy to work with. Nana passed away before I became a milliner, but she would’ve loved these inventive new techniques!”
Her nana would also have been proud to see Kerrie go on to earn a celebrity following, with the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Boy George, Priscilla Presley and Robyn Lawley all avid fans of her brand.
However, Kerrie stresses that the real celebrities are all of the ladies who buy her hats and allow her to do what she does best.
“The first time a client called me to say she’d won on Derby Day I was so excited,” Kerrie says.
“But my proudest moment was winning the VRC Professional Millinery Award. I stayed up most of the night before finishing it, but it was different from anything else on the catwalk, so the sleep deprivation paid off.
“In retrospect, it was quite classical for my style (a series of oversized bows with veiling), but it was executed in a modern way.”
Having a talent for millinery has also given Kerrie an edge in the love department…
“On our first date I took my partner Lexi a hat as a gift,” Kerrie says. “That’s how we bonded. She has more hats than me!”
“It’s a good thing we both tolerate creative mess because otherwise, it would not make for a happy home,” Kerrie laughs. “I work in front of a big mirror as a lot of my style is sculptural. We also have a double garage that stores most of the materials, as well as my hat hire collection and the display paraphernalia I need when I run my pop-up shop over Spring Carnival.”
Although she’s now a darling of the Melbourne millinery scene, Kerrie hasn’t forgotten her North Queensland roots and comes back regularly to MC The Cairns Amateurs.
“I’m very comfortable in front of an audience and on a mic,” Kerrie says. “My North Queensland upbringing has held me in good stead as I can communicate with anybody and speak their language!”