I can’t take credit for the title of my first blog post as one of the many guest bloggers for Crystal Parade!
Whilst discussing becoming a guest with the wonderful Poppy on the phone she mentioned my many facets and I had my first post.
First of all, Poppy and Crystal Parade, thank you for your support, belief and allowing me to write monthly posts to your readers.
So here goes!
Hello, I’m Chris.
A little background about myself. I was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, Africa, until the age of 19 when I moved to the UK in 2004 due to the unsettled political climate. Perhaps one day I’ll write a post about this. I moved to Maidstone, Kent as a landscape designer and shortly left that job ending up with three which I managed because I was young! Those were the days. My jobs slowly but surely lead me to a point where one day I could finally release an unhealthy amount of built-up creative energy.
Years before me being able to release this creative energy, I would become so frustrated to the point of tears for the need to simply create. Use my body, my hands, and my mind. Time often didn’t allow me to be creative.
I wanted to design hats and evening wear. I thought like all the greats, I would start from the top and work my way down. I have always loved hats. It became very apparent to me when Rose - Kate Winslet - stepped out of the car during that famous scene in Titanic where we first meet her and she utters the words, “I don’t see what all the fuss is about…” That image has been impeded in my memory ever since. That hat shifted something within me and I realized the drama a hat could create. In 2019 I got to chat, through the powers of social media, to the milliner who made it. The talented Josephine Willis. My August blog post will be an interview with Jo and I cannot wait to share it with you.
Working in London and holding down a part-time, restaurant, waiting job to afford the travel I would find the little time I had to create. I began experimenting with hats in 2009. Small headpieces that I would gift or even sell to friends and family been reimbursed for just the fabrics cost.
In 2012, 7 months before been asked to do a job that would change everything, I did the Grazia Hat Factor competition. I booked the day off, explaining to my buyer the reason. She was very supportive. The day before I took my hat up to show my colleagues and my GM, at the time, came into the office and saw my piece. He asked what it was and then told me, having experienced buying millinery years before been GM, that there is little money in it unless you make it big. I have learned since that you do millinery for the love of the art, not the money.
I wrapped up warm and the next morning, boarded my train to London and upon reaching the Grazia headquarters saw a queue growing fast and it was talent after talent and even some, what the feck are you thinking. I queued and embarrassingly showed off my McQueen inspired headpiece of faux leather, gold leaves with beads, and barbed wire. It was heavy and could barely balance on the head. I wasn’t going to try and win, I aimed to get feedback. Feedback from industry gods, such as Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy, and Paula Reed. I rattled off my spiel about my inspiration and mentioned I was self-trained. Upon saying this, I was stopped by Mister Treacy himself and asked to repeat what I said. Himself, Mister Jones and Paula Reed complimented my design and its neatness and told me to keep going. I am sure they said it to everyone but for me, I had won. I had been given this message which cemented my decision to make hats.
Holding down a part-time job, now as a meet-and-greet Drag Artist, known in the industry as a “door whore”, during the weekends. A full-time career in London, the night came when a performer didn’t turn up. I stepped out and compered a whole show, no lines or backing tracks when my part-time boss mentioned a figure that would make me jump at the opportunity. I pondered the possibilities and discussed it with family and friends. On one occasion I was even told I was stupid for leaving my career to try and build my business whilst performing as a Drag Artist. I decided to take the plunge.
I left a career at Harrods working in buying and product development, February 2014, and seized the opportunity to work on my label, Julian Garner Headwear, a dream I’ve had since I was 11, whilst supporting myself working the weekends as Madame Mu Mu, Maidstone’s number one tourist attraction. My opening is larger than Leeds Castle. I had been given the gift of time. Time to focus on my label and most importantly myself, creatively.
Now able to work Monday to Fridays on my label and then at night, during the weekend, transform into my alter ego, I still can’t get over how lucky I am. I have always known that the life of someone self-employed is not easy, my parents were farmers in Africa. I learned at a very young age how much you need to work. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. It is not for the faint-hearted as it is many years of wondering when it is going to happen. That big break.
I settled myself into my box room studio where I would sketch profusely and make small headpieces, self-training myself as a milliner before attending a two week, intensive course in millinery at the London College of Fashion in August 2014.
The second week of the course a student asked, "After these two weeks, are we able to call ourselves milliners?" We all looked at our tutor, Chloe Scrivener, and she simply said, "No. You have to work in the industry for 5 years to call yourself a milliner."
I was so deflated but determined I pursued my career and launched myself into designing my first Mood (collection) which I showed off in October 2015 as my - AW/SS 2016 Mood - Ki Mi. A great experience, a massive learning curb and also, in all honesty, a waste of money. My advice to anyone starting in this trade, experiment, intern and do an apprentice. Do not rush ahead.
Fast forward 5 years later, appearing in Vogue, dressing the Royals and packing up my fifth mood, AW/SS 2020, Pride to be delivered to a certain Bond Street Store. I will be writing about these amazing milestones in my young career as a milliner in more depth in May. Watch this space!
So, for now, that’s me, Chris aka Julian Garner aka Madame Mu Mu. My partner and friends often ask me, "Who is in the room?"
I remember getting my friends to sign a book when I left Zimbabwe and one of my friends wrote this;
"Go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see further."