This week Nicely Made in China puts a profession under the spotlight: Elisabeth Koch is a milliner – the word originally referred to someone who came from Milan – . The young U.S-born Dutch woman tells NMiC all about her birth as a hat maker and about making headpieces in this part of the world.
Elisabeth, when did you start Elisabeth Koch-Millinery?
I started as soon as I arrived in China 3 years ago. I was coming from Brussels where I was working in the marketing department of major banks. As soon as I knew that I would be leaving the European Union capital I decided to switch career. I had always loved hats of which I have a large collection. So I decided to go to a millinery school in the U.K, the Wombourne School of Millinery for a few months to really learn the technique of how to make hats.
Do you remember how was the first hat you designed?
Yes of course! It was in London in 1998 and I had been invited to a wedding. I could not find anything I really liked so I decided to make my own hat. I made it with cardboard, feathers, nail varnish, a chair clip and a stapler! Great success!
What are your hats made of?
They’re made of so many different things! But you could distinguish three large categories – but there are more- : felt-based, sinamay-based – sinamay is a natural fibre from the Philippine – and finally what I would call free-style.
Where do you get your materials from?
Most of the materials I use come from Holland. The reason is that in China either the wholesalers are not interested in selling to me because I need such small quantities or I don’t find the traditional materials I am looking for like grosgrain and Petersham ribbons. This fact – of not finding what I want – has forced me to get very creative with the products I find here like different types of plastics, wood and screen mesh that I now use regularly for instance. My hat blocks come from England.
What type of hats do you prefer making and where do you get your inspiration from?
My type of hats I prefer to make is the free-style ones. They never turn out twice the same way and you can put anything on them: I’ve put a dinosaur, the Eiffel tower, a lobster, a peacock, a dragon etc…The possibilities are endless!
My primary source of inspiration these days are the streets Beijing. There’s so much going on that I am constantly wondering how I’ll ever be able to fit it all on hats!
What type of clientele do you have?
Foreign woman and now more and more Chinese too who see my work in Harper’s Bazaar Chinese edition. The strange thing is that I have more foreign clients but at the end of the day I make as many hats for my Chinese clients as I make for my foreign clients. I remember one Chinese lady who ordered 43 hats!
How much does it cost to have a hat custom made and how long does it take?
Price start at 1500 Rmb and goes up to 3500 Rmb (US$ 220-513 / € 177-416 / £ 147-342 / AU$ 250-587)depending on the materials and the time spent on doing it. It takes minimum 3 days to make a hat.
Apart from coming directly to you to have a hat made where can NMiC readers find your hats?
Stockists are listed on my website. To name a few in Beijing my ready to wear hats can be found at Lu 12.28 and D-Sata both in Nali Patio and Eric Paris in the Kerry Center. In Shanghai at Mary Ching, in London at John Lewis on Oxford street and in Amsterdam at the Walls gallery.
Tower 13, Apt. 3607
No. 6 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie
mobile: +86 139 1043 1832
NMiC would like to thank photographer Stephen Lo for lending his pictures.