Hats on to Gigi Burris
Published May 13, 2010
Like many precocious young girls, Gigi Burris was enchanted by imaginative headwear as a child. Hats, bows, headbands, berets—you name it, she wore it. “Even then, God forbid I leave the house unaccessorized!” she jokes. And Burris never let go of those flights of fancy; in fact, she channeled her whimsical side into the unorthodox career choice of millinery. “My lifelong passion for hats became a priority when I studied abroad in Paris,” the Parsons-educated designer says. “I loved the mercerie shops in Le Marais and the feeling of going to family owned stores to get supplies like silk flowers, and hand dyed ribbon. The gorgeous veiling, felts, and velvet ribbons almost brought me to tears.” Upon returning to New York City, Burris formally trained with noted milliner Leah Chalfen, whose “breathtaking” designs she continues to idolize. “She works with full birds!” she says, which is a good thing.
Burris now culls inspiration from a range of eccentric sources—she cites witches, surrealism, and Elsa Schiaparelli’s oddball sense of humor as major influences—to create her own idiosyncratic and witty headpieces. “I spend hours at the New York Public Library looking up old images from the 1890s and 1920s,” she explains, revealing the creative origins of her distinctly Victoriana-meets-Jazz Age preferences. By the time she presented her senior thesis last spring, her “odd, delicate little hats” were already getting noticed by major stylists. Directional pop stars like Rihanna have sported Burris’s wares on magazine covers, while “goth guru” AJ Mukamal (for whom Burris created a floor-length mourning veil from destroyed tulle) are turning her burgeoning brand into a cult phenomenon.
Nicolette Santos, a buyer for New York City vintage mecca Screaming Mimi’s, recently commissioned her to create an exclusive capsule collection for the shop. “It’s for a downtown girl,” says Burris of the collaboration. “This collection fuses my love of old world craft with Mimi’s flirty and forward vintage essence.” The line differs from Burris’ main line by its affordability and slightly “younger, girlier” character. “It allows me to reach a new customer—a customer I am probably friends with, considering I have been shopping at Screaming Mimi’s since I moved here!”