When Laura Del Villaggio was working on her master’s degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), her intent was to study the history of clothing and costumes, with the ambition of working in a museum. That’s not quite what happened.
“FIT is the only place in the U.S. that offers a two-year millinery program, and they let me take it as an elective,” she says. “It’s what stuck.”
Del Villaggio is the artist and founder behind Milli Starr, her Austin-based bespoke millinery studio, where she produces original custom hats for a number of occasions. You’ll find her collections in Austin at Hatbox and Spring Frost—and on Etsy.com. She began making hats full time 10 years ago. As her daughter turned age two, she felt compelled to open a place of her own.
“It was a creative outlet for me and, being a historian, I loved the idea that this was preservation and conservation of traditional women’s work,” says Del Villaggio, who handstitches each hat, using everything from felt to feathers.
She confesses a fondness for collecting late 19th- and early 20th-century hat blocks, the shapes milliners use to create headwear. She draws inspiration from old movies, as well as the material and the clients for whom she crafts.
“I look at face shapes, ask about the hair style they might be wearing for whatever event the hat is for, then figure in how veils or feathers or other materials will be used.”
This past year, Del Villaggio says she created hats harkening to the 1920s, thanks to popularity of “The Great Gatsby” movie. She ships hats all over the world, and closely watches trends in fashion. Her busiest season is the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, and custom Derby hats are priced from $450.
While Del Villaggio doesn’t have a typical day, she relishes time spent in her studio—whether she’s creating something new or not. She recently renovated a collection of hats that had been damaged in a fire for a client.
“I’d love to one day go to London and do a master’s course in millinery,” Del Villaggio says. In the meantime, you’ll find her in Austin, hand-stitching hats—as well as offering private and group lessons.
“I love teaching,” she explains. “It helps hand down this art to a new generation.”