MAA Design Award Winner 2023

Australian Milliner Andrea Cainero wowed the judges with her stunning ‘Sweet Fontange’ design that explored the ruffle in modern fashion.

Rebecca Share caught up with the Andrea to find out more about her winning entry and her hat making journey to that moment.

Award Winning Design – ‘Sweet Fontange’

Drawing inspiration from historical references to ruffles from the 17th century, Andrea’s winning design explored the ruffle and its representation in modern fashion of femininity using traditional millinery techniques, artisan couture embellishment skills, and a contemporary colour palette.

Her stunning piece reimagines the concept combined with headwear styles of that century and features hand-pleated silk organza, hand-embroidered silk panel using traditional artisan Tambour embroidery technique to achieve the finest detail and using a cornelli technique to add delicate seed beads to the design. A pleated ruffle and opaque red crystals complete the frame, and seed beads are added to unify the design.  It’s no wonder the judged were blown away and her design received an unprecedented 1700 peoples choice votes!


What is your Millinery background?

I am a Sydney based milliner and only started in millinery about 3-4 years ago. I started working in fashion when I was 17 at the couture atelier Velani by Nicky, and after studying Fashion Design, running my own small label and then working as a costume designer in the music industry, I made the conscious decision to just focus on my fulltime job as one of the Heads of School at Fashion Design Studio TAFE NSW about 10 years ago. When I returned to work from maternity leave after having my son, one of my colleagues suggested a short course in millinery that was running from Design Centre Enmore in 2019 and I was hooked. I entered and won MIMC in Feb 2020, just before Covid hit, and that really gave me the confidence to continue with this craft.

With a fulltime job and two young kids, I work from a home millinery studio that is now split between an overpacked workroom, and a desk in a room that was my work from home space during lockdown, or where ever I can keep an eye on the kids while I’m working on a piece. Millinery for me began as a much-needed creative outlet and was somewhat of a natural progression with my fashion training and previous work.


Who do you design for?

My clientele is mostly racewear, but I’m a big advocate for bringing headwear back into fashion as well and love making hats that are suitable for everyday wear as well, hence my love of a beret!


What has been your proudest moment?

Other than winning the Design Award this year, my proudest moment has been working with Aussie pop duo, Empire of the Sun. I worked as their costume designer from 2008-2013 and was part of an incredibly creative team designing and making costumes and headpieces for their music videos, live shows and tv performances. I remember reading a review of the show after we played at Coachella in Chicago in 2010 and the opening line was “it only took 24 hours for someone to blow Lady Gaga’s costumes out of the water” and I thought that’s it, I can retire now! Apparently, we also caught the attention of Philip Treacy at one point too.


What materials do you love working with?

I had a love hate relationship with sinamay for a while that’s merged into just a love now. It comes in an incredible array of colours and I love how the weave can be manipulated and moulded into sculptural forms.


What have you found the most challenging with Millinery?

My biggest struggle in millinery is with balancing time and sometimes working alone can be a bit isolating. I remember when I had my fashion label that I sometimes struggled working on my own without someone to bounce ideas off, which is part of the reason that I really love collaborations and the process running my thoughts and ideas through with other people I trust as I’m developing something. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have met and connected with some incredible members of the millinery community that have different styles to me, so it’s great that we can talk through our ideas and support each other and celebrate our achievements.

I really enjoy the Hat Atelier video courses as they give you the opportunity to work at your own pace and pause them as you work through them. I also love the ability of being able to go back to parts that I need a refresher on too.  What I love about the techniques taught on Hat Atelier are that they are really unique and encourage a contemporary approach to millinery. There’s a combination of modern and traditional materials and techniques used and they encourage you to think outside the square with how you use materials.


What’s next for your brand? 

My ultimate dream is to be a fulltime milliner, but for the moment I continue to work steadily on building my brand awareness with various collaborations and exposure

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