Laura Hall's hatmaking business Phylli caters to many a celebrity from her Scone base

HATS OFF:
HATS OFF: "Hats are a way of telling the world who they are, where they come from, their story," says Laura Hall. Picture: Lucy Alcorn

Where were you raised and what influenced your career?

I grew up in Melbourne andmy Dad has had a massive influence on Phylli. One of my fondest memories with Dad, over one of our last Christmases together, we were watching old John Wayne cowboy movies. He and I were talking about the styles of old hats, the characters wearing them and how some looked like they had a real story behind them - they were squashed, worn and bashed in; and how I would really like to make a hat with that much personality. Dad told me to go to the cupboard and pull down a stack of hats. He gifted me a collection from his lifetime, one of granddad's too. It was just the most precious gift. Knowing the long days and the hard work and the happy times and the life experiences that would have happened with both of them, having worn them for decades.

What did you do after school?

I developed my obsession with accessories made in textured leathers, great hardware and an array of colour at Mimco in Sorrento. I then went on to have a corporate career - it was always the accessories and the creativity linked with fashion that had my heart.

What did you learn in your first jobs?

My first roles were at Mimco and in a corporate sales role in workplace training. I learnt that there's no such thing as boundaries to your creativity and the art in telling a story through a product. It was incredible to be part of something bigger - something growing and developing in the late 2000's. My corporate sales role taught me how to fail, and its impact; and the importance of always looking for the opportunities to improve your business.

What led to you start Phylli?

I began as a racing milliner while working in the corporate industry as a creative side project. I put it down for a few years to focus on my corporate career, but kept coming back to the same idea that there were limited hat products created for long-term wearability. I wanted to see pieces that allowed a person to tell their life story and express their personality.

Why the name Phylli?

My middle name is Phyllis, I love horses (particularly a good filly) and the racing industry, and my hometown is Scone, horse capital of Australia. Some might call that a trifecta.

My middle name is Phyllis, I love horses ... and my hometown is Scone, horse capital of Australia. Some might call that a trifecta.

How do hatmakers and milliners differ?

Milliners are typically defined as only creating pieces for women. Hatmakers design a unisex product and use different design techniques. The thought of unisex pieces with opportunity to use traditional craftsmanship appealed to me most when I was researching. That was exactly what I wanted to create.

What was the response to your products when you tested them at Bondi Markets, which has launched Australian brands like Zimmerman, Sass & Bide?

My first ever customer there was Jarrad McVeigh, AFL legend for Sydney Swans, and my second, at Paddington markets, singer songwriter Delta Goodrem. It cemented my view that the product I had created spoke directly to my target audience, people who are fashion-forward with amazing stories to tell. I sold so many hats during that time, and it was so great to see how something as beautiful as a hat could be a gift to bring people from all walks of life together.

Why did you open your store in Scone?

COVID had a significant impact and I wanted to relocate to a place that felt like home, and somewhere I could financially afford to live and continue the momentum in pursuit of my creative business in an online setting. I also wanted to be closer to family when we needed it most.

How long does it take to make a hat?

Anywhere from four to six hours, sometimes 10. I import the felt pieces and I block, hand-shape and embellish each piece individually in my store. This process allows the wearer to customise the hat at any stage of the making process. Embellishing can include anything from custom stitching to ribbons to setting your hat on fire.

You have also been in the Hemsworth bunker in Byron Bay - how so?

Elsa Pataky [wife of actor Chris Hemsworth] found me when visiting Scone to support the Wild Ark Conservation Program in Barrington Tops. I suggested a hat party, enabling an exclusive group creative experience with their friends and family. It was such a humbling experience, again as a reminder why my product and service are really about as the Phylli experience - hats are the vehicle to bring it all together.

You say you want to create a community and boost your clients' confidence. How are hats an enabler?

Community is about making people feel connected, wherever they are. That could be started from a conversation between two people wearing beautiful hats through to a shared experience in a hat party. Confidence comes in being able to share your own story - my hats allow this happen.

Where would you like Phylli to be in five years?

On the walls of every fashion-forward Australian's household.