Hats off to Blair Nadeau

January 23, 2014

Hair and make-up: Erin Heather

Models: Kiana Penderson, Peggi Lepage Model Scout, Sherrida Agency; Jess Fess, Spot6 Model Management


The art of millinery requires extreme creativity and attention to detail. Luckily, Toronto-based designer Blair Nadeau embodies both traits and applies them to all of her designs.

Blair Nadeau Millinery is only four years old, yet Nadeau’s fascinators, veils and bridal hats are in-demand, so much so that Wedding Industry Experts named Nadeau one of the “top 10 bridal accessory designers in the world.”

FAJO finds out what inspires the designer, what is involved in the millinery process and what the future holds for her business.

Blair Nadeau

Blair Nadeau.

1. What is your educational background and how did you get involved in fashion?

I’ve always been involved in the arts. After graduating from high school, I extended my education with two years at BealArt in London, Ontario. I specialized in printmaking (etching) and textiles, which is where I really got my hands into appliqués, beadwork and surface design. After graduating from Beal, I moved to Toronto to study fashion design at Ryerson University and graduated in 2006.

2. What got you interested in millinery?

After graduating from Ryerson, I was very fortunate that my second job in the fashion world was working on the vendor side that afforded me the opportunity to travel to Europe to research trends and purchase samples. I’ve always loved hats myself, but really hadn’t been exposed to the world of fascinators. [Until] five years ago, North America really was not aware of the term yet. We all knew that the Queen wore hats, but as far as fascinators went, it was a bit foreign to us.

On one of my first trips to England, I stumbled upon a little boutique within Selfridges that had [a lot] of beautiful fascinators and hats on display. I was mesmerized by the colours, swirls and twirls of materials I had never seen before. From that moment on, I felt as though I had found my niche in the world of fashion, and decided then and there that I would become a milliner!

3. Have you always focused on hat and headpiece design?

Honestly, no! I’ve always loved hats and have found them absolutely intriguing, but while in school, I was a bit of a punk rocker and that is where my design style took me. Skulls and chains, studs galore! I had the opportunity to study millinery in university. But as I loved embellishments and surface design, I chose to continue my textile studies, which I think really opened up the doors to bridal for me.

4. Hat design is often linked to royalty and high society — we think of the British monarchy, in particular. Do you use any U.K. or European fashion trends as inspiration?

I’m fortunate to be a part of a few Australian and U.K. millinery forums, where we all share tips and tricks, latest fabrics and designs. I’m very inspired by the incredible designs some of my colleagues around the world create. But, at the same time, I have a million of my own ideas and find that I am more influenced and inspired by fabrics and how to manipulate them into millinery, as well as by the history of design than current trends.

5. In general, where do you find the inspiration for your designs?

I allow the fabrics to inspire me. My designs are built up from a single feather or a piece of fabric, so I usually let a particular material speak to me, and I manipulate it as I work with it. This season was the first time that I actually sketched out a collection from start to finish. I chose my fabrics first, researched bridal trends from the 1920s and 1970s, and reinterpreted them for today’s brides.

6. How would you describe your own style? Do you wear your own designs?

I’m a bit eclectic. Sometimes, I’ll wear a tulle skirt with a floral print top, and the next day I’ll be wearing a sweatshirt with harem pants and spiked shoulders. I’m a bit of a chameleon, but I do enjoy trends, although my wallet does not!

I definitely do wear my own designs. Not so much the bridal pieces, but I love creating new pieces for myself to wear for events. Right now, I’m really big into crowns. I’ve been making myself quite a few.

7. Tell us a little about your client base. Do they tell you what they want, or do you make designs based on their personalities or a specific outfit they have in mind?

Ninety per cent of my clients are brides. I adore working with brides — they are so happy all the time. It’s such an exciting time of their lives and I really am honoured to be a part of their day. Most brides will choose a piece from my current or past collection, and then we custom-tailor it to suit her vision and work with her dress. The absolute most important part of the process is that [our design works with] her dress. We want to complement the gown, not take away from it.

A piece also has to work with the bride’s personality, as we definitely want the bride to wear the piece, not the other way around. If our client is more on the shy side, we would recommend a more understated piece, but if she’s a fashionista, watch out! That is where I usually get the opportunity to have free reign over a design and create something one-of-a-kind.

8. Where can people purchase your designs?

Some of my pieces are available at various specialty boutiques and bridal shops across Ontario. My 2012/2013, and soon my 2014, collections are all available at my Etsy store. If a client wants something custom or a change to an existing design, I recommend that they contact me directly to create something unique just for them.

9. Who are your top three favourite designers?

Chanel, Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy.

10. What does the future look like for Blair Nadeau Millinery?

2014 looks very exciting. I have a few projects on the go that unfortunately aren’t public yet, so I can’t discuss them, but they are exciting!

This past fall, a few of my designs were featured on the CW Network’s hit show Reign and hopefully there will be a few more featured in the coming weeks. I’m also launching an “under $100” collection for my Etsy store and I have some great creative collaborations coming up.

A snapshot of Blair Nadeau Millinery

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By Sarah Ward
Photography by Tara West

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