by Jennifer Stokes


It’s a warm Spring day in East Coburg as I approach the millinery studio of Michele Cameron and her hat-making partner, Mary Lock. Tucked in behind the Merri Creek, a turquoise Californian weatherboard hides behind its innocuous doors a secret world of feathers, lace, pins, and rolls of bright sinamay.


Michele, one half of M&M Millinery, greets me warmly at the door in a multicoloured chequer board pinafore. I’m shown into a roomful of hats and shelves piled high with wooden hat blocks. She clears a space for me at an old laminex table filled with threads and scissors, and sits herself down to rethread the needle of a pristine Singer sewing machine. It’s that time of year for milliners and I’m happy to chat while she works away.


“So will it be all about the hatinators again this Spring Carnival?” I ask.


She cringes and laughs, “I hate that word. Is it old-fashioned these days just to call them cocktail hats?”


I look around at a pin board mounted on the perfectly preserved 50s wallpaper. “Are these this year’s colours then?” I ask, pointing to a pastel colour chart amongst the numerous newspaper clippings, drawings, photographs, and magazine cut-outs.




She glances over the top of her enormous purple reading glasses, “Yes. But periwinkle blue is in, and there’s still a lot of red around too. Colour’s very important in millinery,” she tells me, firing up the Singer and stitching down a piece of facing. “If you’re having a hat made then your milliner’s a good person to ask for direction about colours. We might suggest something you haven’t thought of, like, don’t just pair your outfit with a black or nude shoe, pick out a colour in your hat or dress and try that instead.”


“So do you often get asked advice then?”


“It’s not that common these days” she says, switching off the sewing machine and coming to sit at the table. “People don’t know how to take advice or service anymore. They can feel they are being strong-armed into making purchases or decisions, but we don’t want them to feel like that. We just want our women to feel comfortable, we want them to leave feeling a million dollars.”


Michele opens one of the thick gilded photo albums stacked on a nearby shelf. She thumbs through the plastic overlays showing me some of the thank you letters and photos from her clients over the years. M&M Millinery pride themselves on offering a personal and holistic service, “We consider everything when we design hats for clients,” she says. “A woman’s facial shape, hair type, style.”


Tucked in behind the Merri Creek, a turquoise Californian weatherboard hides behind its innocuous doors a secret world of feathers, lace, pins, and rolls of bright sinamay.”


Michele, a Brunswick West local, studied fashion at Melbourne College of Textiles, focusing later on millinery. Having built up a thriving business that has spanned nearly 30 years, she continues to make and design hats for all occasions. Specialising in bridal and race wear, her main focus is not creating outlandish, theatrical hats full of unwearable artistry – although she does indulge the artist in her every now and then – instead she produces hats intended to make their wearer look and feel beautiful.


“So when you’re not making hats, what else do you do with yourself?” I ask, looking through photographs of brides, beautiful peacock hats and an outrageous sixties lampshade inspired piece she was commissioned to make for an RMIT fashion parade.


“Well I’m a nurse by profession” she says, “and I still do that part time.”


“And what do you do to relax? For instance, where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon?”


Michele sinks back into her chair, smirking mischievously. “The Sofitel,” she says quickly. “All dressed up with the girls having high tea. Wearing fabulous hats!” She laughs. “We always do high tea on Oakes Day after Fashions on the Field. There are four of us, and we go somewhere different each time, but the Sofitel does the best high tea.”




She momentarily stops working, takes off her glasses and tells me ‘High Tea’ stories about unassuming waiters, feathers, and an innocent American tourist whose introduction to the Melbourne racing carnival was via Michele and her milliner friends sipping champagne in all their Oakes Day finery! “I can only imagine the photographs circulating around the States” she says.


She puts her glasses back on. “I must book somewhere for this year.”


Michele doesn’t have a website. Instead you can contact her on 0409 418 662 to make an appointment or discuss the hat-making classes that she and Mary run.


Her hats can currently be found at the MAA Pop Up Shop which runs until 7th November – Shop 17, 299 Toorak Rd, South Yarra.



Jennifer is a freelance arts and opinion writer living in Coburg. Originally from the UK, she enjoys reading and travel, and believes you can never drink too many cups of tea.

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