by Ryan Conner
You can pop by Warren Barrón this weekend to see the creative, romantic, and vintage-style headpieces from New York-based Leah C. Couture Millinery at the trunk show this Friday and Saturday. And not only are the designs on display, but designer Leah Chalfen will be at the store to help the bride select or create the perfect look for her big day. Stop by the store to welcome Leah to Dallas (for the first time) and learn about each of her handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces. And by the way, you don’t have to be a bride to wear her work. She designs all sorts of millinery designs for evening wear, cocktail, the race track, and special events. I stopped by this afternoon to conduct a little Q&A with the designer to learn a bit about the art of millinery.
BridalBuzz: Leah, tell me a little about your designs. What is your specialty?
Leah Chalfen: I specialize in feather work and the wide net French veiling, as opposed to tulle which is the traditional veil material. For instance, this is called popcorn veiling. They were produced in French mills that no longer exist, so it’s a special material that I have as a collector and milliner. The lack of supply and demand of today caused the mills to close. So whatever is left is floating around from European nations and America (a huge importer), so I look out for them and hoard them. It’s a true vintage piece. We wouldn’t even design some of the netting today because it’s so labor intensive.
BB: What is your background and how did you get into millinery?
LC: When I was 30, I was inspired by an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I saw the hat exhibit and was captured by the glamour and I began to study the art and moved to New York. I paid my dues interning. I trained with Patricia Underwood in New York and then trained at FIT’s millinery program. I ended up teaching at Parsons and taught millinery there. I also traveled to France to learn. France is known for the feather work and they were the nations that produced most of the veils.
BB: Where do you find the materials you use?
LC: Well, for instance, this straw is made in Switzerland. This is not made any more. The straw is sewn up by a skilled person called an operator. This hat uses a silk floral leaf from Japan, also a country that produced the creations for millinery use. The Czech Republic is known for their gorgeous crystal and beading – I have some of that on my designs. This hat has a feather from Paris from the turn-of-the-century that I stenciled. To find the materials, you have to source them and you have to know what you’re looking for.
BB: Do you have a certain bride or woman in mind when designing? What is your inspiration?
LC: No. Basically the special materials lead the way for me and tell me what to do with them. It’s all interpretation, and somebody next to me could have the same silk element and of course do something different. It’s all about how the designer perceives it. I tend to go traditional and then I can be innovative. All of my clients are very unique and they have their own excitement and vision, but they don’t know what it is yet and I help them get there.
BB: After a bride chooses her dress, how does she go about choosing her headpiece?
LC: It’s a little bit of everything: I look at the neckline, the bride’s hair, and elements that are already in the vision of the woman like jewelry. It usually ends up being one of the last things they do. I think you choose your veil and headpiece after you choose your dress and choose your earrings last, unless you’re wearing an heirloom. Hairstyle can be worked around. Some people are very fixed in their vision of their hair.
But it’s all about shape. Millinery changes your silhouette, but a lot of the little veils are gentle and graceful and not extension to the body shape. So my thing is to create flattering and interesting and beautiful and graceful designs. People look at your eye and your smile and we’re creating a nice, balanced triangle.
We also ask a lot of questions about how all the details fit together. It’s important for this to be a comprehensive vision with balance and interest. Are the ceilings of the reception very high? Is it an intimate space? You don’t want to have to fight with that. Also themes and destination weddings. It’s about personalization.