Margaret Atwood once said, “I myself have 12 hats, and each one represents a different personality. Why just be yourself?”
Anne Livingston would tip her hat to the sentiment, whether it’s a seagrass cap for a jog through the Upper Beach, a fancy fascinator for a special occasion, or an elegant Bergère-style hat made from sinamay (a material woven from the stalks of a banana palm).
“I’ve always liked to make things,” she says, pointing out that she first learned to knit and sew from her mother and grandmother. “I think my predisposition to make things is very genetic.”
While she loves to make things, and has learned a number of skills, something about hats just clicked with Livingston, who explains the art of millinery patiently to a reporter, apparently not alone in his fascination with an art that’s not so commonplace these days.
“Everybody finds it so esoteric,” she says.
While she has experimented with clothing and has taken a course on tambour beading, Livingston says hats are what she does best, and what she will continue to do.
“There’s just never enough time to become excellent in everything you want to do,” she says.
The various techniques, styles and materials combine to make what she calls “the infinite variety of what a hat or a headpiece can be.”
While her first efforts were headwear learned from books, she soon found she wanted to expand her education. Thankfully, George Brown College has a millinery certificate program, and from 2007 to 2009, she attended and worked to expand her craft.
Livingston spent five years selling hats and headpieces at a stall at the St. Lawrence Market, but found dealing with the outdoor market to be a bit of a grind after half a decade. Thankfully she’s started to get more requests for custom work for weddings, showers and other special occasions this year.
“I thought, ‘Oh goodie, I can take off in this new direction,’” she said. “That’s what I love to do, is bespoke work and fancy stuff.”
That predisposition for fancy creations paid off this summer, at an invitational competition at the 155th running of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack.
Livingston first took in Canada’s most important horse race as a child of 10 or 11, accompanying her father, who was a photographer for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Information.
“It was very exciting, though I don’t remember wearing a hat,” she says.
This year, representatives from George Brown College’s millinery program invited 30 past and present students, including Livingston, to submit ideas. Though she doesn’t consider herself much of a sketch artist, something in her design must have struck a chord with the organizers, as hers was one of the 14 concepts that were then turned into reality.
It was not a quick process – “It took quite a lot of time. I didn’t even count the hours” – but she ended up with a hat that made quite an impression.
“I do think that competing is good for your creativity.”
On the day of the competition, Livingston and her fellow competitors were dressed for the possibility of having to model their own hats, though they ended up simply holding them up for judges to see. Judges included official Queen’s Plate milliner David Dunkley, Traci Melchor of CTV’s The Social (co-host Melissa Grelo was the emcee), and Fashion at the Races writer Bri Mott.
“We were all sitting around biting our nails,” she said, but then the three finalists were announced. Then the emcee named the second runner-up – not Livingston. And then she named the first runner-up – also not Livingston. That’s when she realized, to her great surprise and happiness, that she’d won.
“I was not in the least bit ready for my close-up,” she says with a laugh.
The benefits of holding the competition at the Queen’s Plate also include helping with what Livingston sees as a push for fashion at the racetrack, and extending horse racing to a new crowd.
“I thought it was about time to introduce the notion of dressing up, putting on a nice hat and going to the races,” she says.
See more of Livingston’s work at hatsbyanne.blogspot.com.