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That Girl: Awon Golding, milliner maestro

This week’s That Girl is Awon Golding, hat-maker extraordinaire and founder of Awon Golding Millinery. Forget just weddings and special occasions… you’ll want to wear Awon’s stunning pieces all the time!

We chat to Awon about how she made the leap into millinery, whether hats really do suit everyone, get her tips on staying motivated and find out how the creative scene in Hong Kong has changed over the past few years.

Can you fill us in on your background and how your family ended up in Hong Kong?
My mum and dad met in a nightclub in Delhi in the heady 1970s, an auspicious start to any relationship. My dad was a young English artist seeking more adventure than London could provide, and my mum was a uni student presumably looking for a young English artist! The move to Hong Kong happened when my dad got commissioned to paint the Kowloon Shangri-La lobby artwork in 1980 and the then foetal me had no choice but to go along for the ride.

Expat brat with a hippy twist is how I’d describe myself. I was raised on Lamma Island, with a stint at a boarding school in the Himalayas, and now split my time between here and London.

How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I love colour! I try to incorporate some pop of colour in everything I wear, whether it’s a bright lipstick or a vibrant dress. I’m also a bit obsessed with animal motifs, leopards being my current favourite. As the years advance, I guess I’ve toned down the hemlines and I stay clear of anything that’s too figure hugging, but between you and me that’s more to do with the lack of gym attendance than style evolution.  I also LOVE a bargain, so I guess I would sum up my style by saying vintage gem meets high street discount… in the nicest way possible.

Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I’m not hugely loyal to any one shop. I like browsing and if I see something that looks unique I’ll go for it. As far as secret finds are concerned, I guess my not-so-secret find would be Me and George [locations include Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok and Li Yuen Street West in Central], but everyone seems to know about it these days. Maple is a pretty good place to check out for super cheap one-off bits and bobs. It’s pretty hit and miss, but can turn up a real find sometimes.

What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
Tsui Wah scores big on the yum-o-meter. It’s impossible to find baked pork chop rice in London! I get major cravings for it when I’m over there. As for bars, nothing beats Club 71 for its laidback ambiance – it’s the perfect place to catch up with mates. My inner teenager has to mention 7-11 too. Though not quite a bar, it’s served me well over the years!

What is your favourite place in Hong Kong?
Nothing gets the nostalgia flowing like a walk on Lamma. It’s my favourite place on earth. A six-pack of beers with mates on Power Station beach on a summer‘s day is perfection.

What made you first become interested in hats and hat making?
Bored with the slog of office life, I was looking for a creative trade that I could really sink my teeth into. Millinery first caught my eye when I made a headpiece to wear to my step-brother’s wedding and realised that I really enjoyed it. What started as a quick fix because I couldn’t find anything in the shops I liked quickly became a passion.

You’ve had a somewhat potted career path… What made you finally take the plunge into making millinery your full-time job?
Variety is the spice of life and my varied careers have certainly adhered to this! I’ve edited a magazine, been an events production manager, dabbled in game designing, but perhaps most memorable was my stint as a fill-in Barbie voice-over artist. I do a mean So-Cal accent! What it’s all taught me is you’re never too old to try something new if you’re passionate about it.

Can you describe the various stages of making a hat? What was the longest time you spent making one? What’s the most memorable hat you designed?
Millinery is like sculpture – you’re bringing a 2D idea into 3D reality.  Sometimes you get it right first time, but more often then not you’ve got to do several toiles before you’ve perfected it. The most labour-intensive hat I ever made was a vintage style feather coolie that was made up of hand-dyed individual hand-cut feather wings. There were about 90 wings in total. My surrealist diamond hat is my most recognisable piece – it’s made up of three felt and leatherette diamonds perched dramatically one on top of another. I won Hat Designer of the Year from The Felt Makers Guild for that piece.

Do certain types of hat suit different face shapes? Or is it more about the wearer’s personality?
Hats are like clothes – you have to find the right shape and colours to suit your body and face. People often say, “Hats don’t suit me,” which is a total fallacy; it’s just about trying on loads till you find the right one. Of course, there are some pieces that just scream, “Look at me!” and you need the right personality to pull it off; Anna Della Russo is a great example of someone that wears eye-catching hats well. Hats have the ability to transform outfits from ordinary to show-stopping, but curiously they have a similar effect on the wearer’s personality too. To wear a hat properly, you have to affect an air of confidence – it’s transformative. Who needs Prozac when you’ve got a hat!

We’re used to hearing about trends for clothes or handbags… does headgear follow similar trends? What do you think will be big for 2013?
Definitely. Right now vintage is huge! You will see glamorous Greta Garbo-esque fedoras popping up everywhere, and with the imminent release of The Great Gatsby, I predict the cloche and flapper bandeaus will make a comeback as a casual accessory.

Where do you get inspiration?
I love looking to nature for inspiration. The world around us provides such a rich palette of colours and shapes to get the creative juices flowing, everything from the curl of a fern frond to the shape of a swan’s wing. It just takes a little patience and awareness to see it.

You’ve grown up and lived in HK for most of your life. Are there any particular things you miss about it that no longer exist?
I miss the quiet of Lamma Island. It doesn’t really exist anymore as it’s become such a popular place to live and is swamped with tourists at the weekends. When we first moved there, we were one of the first international families to do so and it was little more than a fishing village. It makes me sad to think about it, but then I guess that’s progress, so who am I to complain!

What do you miss most about HK when you are away?
I miss my friends and family first and foremost, but a close second has got to be the food. I get insatiable cravings for the simple things like wonton mein and sliced fish congee. Also the ability to call up a mate and actually see them 15 minutes later is something I never appreciated until now. In London, you have to organise everything months in advance. My diary is my master!

You started a craft market in HK and now run one in London. How do you think the creative scene has changed in HK over the last few years – and how does it compare to London? What ways could HK improve?
HK’s definitely come on hugely in the last four years but we’re still a long way from being firmly on the international map. I think individual designers and shops are dragging HK under the global microscope, but the scene as a whole is still quite stifled. When you rely on high-end designer brands so heavily, you lose your own identity. In London, you could wear a bin bag and no one would bat an eyelid. It’s that kind of freedom from self-consciousness that breeds cutting edge design and fashion.

Being self-employed, how hard is it to stay motivated? What tips do you have for others in the same boat?
Motivation is a huge issue for me, especially as I work from home, so separating work from leisure if tough. A good day starts when I get out of my pyjamas, not to mention the sheer mountains of toast I go through a day. The things I’ve found that help are meeting up regularly with other designer-makers to share ideas, but also get an outsider’s perspective.  Also creating a routine that involves leaving the house for an hour a day at least is really important. It clears the head and you get so much more done that way.

What’s next for Awon Golding Millinery?
This coming summer, I’m blitzing the workshops. I’ve already organised a slew that will take me to the heartland of Sweden and a chateau in France. I’m also planning my AW13 collection, plus piecing together a ready-to-wear collection. Watch this space!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My tutor at millinery college said to me that the designers who succeed are the ones that keep at it. It may seem ridiculously obvious, but too many people get disheartened and give up. It’s the last man standing that makes it.

Awon is running a series of hat-making workshops in Hong Kong throughout March 2013 – get more info on times and dates here and purchase tickets here.

SASSY DISCOUNT: Anyone who books one of Awon’s hat workshops can get a special 10% discount on the normal price! At checkout, simply write ‘SASSY’ after your name so Awon knows who you are, then mention Sassy to Awon at the workshop itself to receive your 10% refund!

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at sabrinasikora@gmail.com.

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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