Biretta & Busby – Magnificient Millinery

by The Editor


Recently, we came across yet another great Canberra milliner, Rebecca O’Reilly, who is preparing for a big Spring season.  We were intrigued to know the inspiration of the Biretta & Busby designer, so asked a few questions to learn where she started, what inspires and where to from here.

1.      Where did you study? what drew you to millinery?

I did study Fashion Design at CIT but didn’t complete the course. My year produced the fantastic graduates that have brought us 4 Minutes 33, Andie Merediths label and also Sara Wurkers label. I left to pursue working in fashion retail, I had dreams of being a buyer or merchandiser in Canberra but ended up saving for a few years to instead live in London for six months, travelling and ‘finding myself’ in around 2008/9.

I guess the biggest thing that drew me to millinery is my fiancé (who does not love the lime light!) is a horse breeder and when we first met and were attending races and planning a trip to Royal Ascot, I was struck at how truly difficult it is to find affordable contemporary millinery. Something more than a fluffy fascinator but less than a wide brim wedding hat was either so expensive or not very well made. So I started by making my own. I did a few pieces for friends and family and then through word of mouth the label just went from there. Currently, Biretta & Busby is the Official Millinery Brand at Canberra’s Thoroughbred Park.

2. Is it a one-lady-show, or is B&B a team effort?

At the moment it is just me! But I hope one day to have a full production house.


3. Do you have a favourite (or most challenging) material to work with?

I think the easiest and most eye catching thing to work with is Sinamay. I like using it in non-traditional methods. Sculpting it is fun and I like to tease and fringe it as well. I also love using leather and it’s not as difficult to mould once you get the hang of it! There a some fantastic new materials coming out such as my favourite silk abaca (a shiny material made from silk and abaca hemp fibres) and jinsin which is a woven straw fabric that are unique and lend themselves to endless possiblities!

4. What themes run through your Spring Collection?

This collection is based around the idea of a Garden Tea Party. I’m in love with the 50s and 60s and more of the very proper dinner-party-office, Mad Men side of the era. I really went for the soft pastels and sweeping lines from outfits of that decade. Parts of the collection are really modern because I also want women to embrace something as old fashioned as a pillbox hat with something as modern as clashing colours or digital prints.

I love going to the races seeing gaggles of girls together that’ve spent weeks discussing their outfits with one another and the pleasure they get from going that extra mile with a hat. When else do you get the chance to dress up so lady like?!


5. Describe the creative process when engaged by a client.

Usually the first thing I ask a client is for a picture of their dress. I myself will always start with a dress or skirt and most my inspiration revolves around that. Then I talk to them about colours and accessories and what style of hat they have in mind: feathers, maybe straw or something in leather. I try and steer customers towards the tradition of race day fashion guidelines, i.e. straw and sinamay in summer and felt and leather in winter. Then I’ll send them some pictures of what I call a ‘mock up’ so its ideas based on what we’ve talked about all pinned together on a mannequin head. Then we go from there, mixing and matching to come up with something unique!

6. Who do you admire? Who best demonstrates your craft?

I was lucky enough to see the Stephen Jones millinery exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum when I lived in London and I think that was something that really stayed with me when I came home. I admire his work greatly. But honestly I love the older ladies who I see at the races who do bold outfits really well. Just recently I was at the Caulfield Races in Melbourne and spotted this lovely lady in head to toe powder blue. She was wearing a pants suit with a lovely knee length coat and had accessorized her outfit with taupy-beige accents that complemented her headpiece beautifully. I think girls of a younger generation could learn a lot from beautifully dressed ladies like that!


7. Will there be an online store? Where will we next see your work?

Currently, there’s a link from our page to our Etsy store, until our online store is properly up and running. (Hopefully by the end of 2013) But clients are always welcome to contact me via Facebook if they see a piece they like!

You can always see Biretta & Busby pieces on the very gorgeous Kate Goodwin, Myer Face of Canberra Racing. Check out Thoroughbred Parks Facebook page for upcoming racing events!

Biretta & Busby Hatmaker Co.