Having looked at the Volt Café editorial Architect of Poise, you’re probably curious about Gabriela Ligenza. When our fashion director Cynthia Lawrence-John told me about her latest discovery, I was intrigued – last time Cynthia was that excited was after discovering that the legendary Judy Blame’s studio is literally next door to hers, thus rather increasing the odds of bumping into her idol. Then I found out Ligenza is one of those insider secrets who works with a rosta of big fashion houses besides her eponymous line. And she is represented by Ella Dror PR. Ella and Ash know their stuff. Hmm. Cynthia kindly facilitated an introduction and I got to meet a lovely soul, the architect and artist from Poland who ended up as a milliner in London.

Volt Café: You’re trained as an architect. How did the switch to working as a milliner happen?
Gabriela Ligenza: It’s 3D. It’s a structure. Hats are more immediate than clothing, which is 2D. I always try them on as I like to see what they look like on a person.. When I first started designing hats, I tended to exaggerate, just like some male designers do. I learned that just a small tweak is enough.

VC: Why do you think architects are attracted to fashion and accessories? Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Hussein Chalayan are just a few architects who also design fashion. Architecture is presumably going to be there for a long time whereas fashion often is very fleeting.
GL: I’m a frustrated architect but I think fashion and architecture is well matched. The sculptural aspect is so perfect for millinery. I studied Fine Art as well and made sculptures from granite in Poland in the 80’s. If I’d stayed in Poland I’d probably been an architect now.

VC: Do you think it’s important to collaborate with fashion designers and creative? If so, who’d you like to work with and why?
GL: Yes and no. I’ve done it in the past. It’s always an afterthought as they can feel threatened if the hats take over. Missoni was lovely to work with, they are such a beautiful family. You’d have lunches there and Anna Piaggi would be there or some similar amazing personalities.

VC: You are represented by Ella Dror PR. What attracted you to them? They are very much about emerging, slightly anarchic designers whereas you are a well-established milliner with a boutique on Ellis Street, SW1!
GL: Sasha Wilkins from LibertyLondonGirl mentioned Ella Dror and I thought, who are they? Checked the website, they are so different. Opposites attract, they have balls. I’m happy!


VC: Your lookbook certainly looks beautiful. It is styled by Volt magazine’s Fashion Director Cynthia Lawrence-John. What was it like to work with her?
GL: We’re on the same wavelength completely, it was really great.

VC: Where do you draw your inspiration from, tell us about the process?
GL: We do follow the commercial seasons – we bounce off the catwalks. Films. The current collection was influenced by Bob Marley. Exhibitions. When I start a collection I know I’ll discard my initial drawings but you need them nonetheless. Most of my inspiration come from fabrics and technology. The material guides me – both the possibilities and the limitations. Sometimes accidents are a very important part of the process. You have to think laterally all the time. And it is important to collaborate with people. I’m quite stubborn but if I can see a better idea I’ll happily use it.

VC: You’re very interested in new technologies – is that from your architectural background?
GL: Yes, I really want to get into 3D printing for my hats.

VC: Yet old technologies are lost daily, we seem so quick to get rid of ways that are perceived as old fashioned. Why do you think this is? And do you lament it? How do you think we can protect our more analog ways?
GL: there are less and less artisans. And no investment in that side of things. There’s a lot of investment in bags and shoes in Italy. Where I live in Italy, Prada has literally sucked up all the skilled labour. I work with Bottega Veneta and Ferregamo with product development so I learn a lot from that. It’s good to be a Jack of all trades – when you come from a different field, you often have a fresh eye. Don’t get me wrong, I very much admire Prada, there’s always a fresh take on things.

VC: If you were a tutor on a millinery degree course, what would your advce be to a budding milliner?
GL: What’s important to me is to be able make something properly. Be an artisan as much as a designer. In millinery you need both in equal measures. Learn all the time. This might sound obvious or banal but you’re only alive if you’re learning. You should always strive to better yourself. Adele List (1893-1983, an avant-garde milliner from Vienna) is my favourite designer. When I look at her work, I always see something new.

VC: Have you got a muse? Or is there anyone you’d particularly like to wear your pieces?
GL: It kind of changes. Florence Welch – I quite like her look. Julianne Moore is iconic. Grayson Perry! I’d love to design for Claire, his alter ego. And the late Amy Winehouse.

VC: Where do you see Gabriella Ligenza going in the next five or ten years?
GL: We’re thinking of having a bigger shop and opening GL Accessories in the Far East. A sort of pitstop for accessories.
We’ve started the shop on-line which is a great shopfront as people look at it and then come to the shop to try things on. We always have an evolving stock of one-offs, something we’ll try to keep. And handbags are definitely on the horizon.

VC: Is there such a thing as ‘a head for hats’? Or is it a question of confidence?
GL: You can find a hat for anyone; the hat will bring out qualities that were hidden. Initially it takes confidence and panache… sometimes you may feel shy. But. Hats will give you confidence, make other people believe you’re confident!

Photography: Ross Shields
Styling/Art Direction: Cynthia Lawrence-John
Hair: Danielle Metcalfe
Make up: Claudine Blythman assisted by Paula Valencia
Model: Leah S @ D1
Stylist assistant: Sanne Steijger
Thanks to Paul Moreland at Studio 9

Words by Anna Bang



Adele List, Amy Winehouse, anna bang, Anna Piaggi, Bob Marley, Bottega Veneta, Claudine Blythman, cynthia lawrence john, d1, Danielle Metcalfe, Ella Dror PR, Ferregamo, Florence Welch, Gabriela Ligenza, Grayson Perry, Judy Blame, Julianne Moore, Missoni, Paul Moreland, Paula Valencia, Prada, Ross Shields, Sanne Steijger, Studio 9,