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The art of Rosie Boylan



Rosie Boylan chats to freelance writer Elizabeth McArthur about the art of millinery and working with The Living Room Theatre

Rosie Boylan has built an amazing career out of hats. She’s created some of the most beautiful headwear you’ve seen for movies like The Great Gatsby, Australia and Moulin Rouge. Now, Rosie sells her creations from her shop in Newtown and continues to be kept very busy with private commissions. The Living Room Theatre is delighted to announce that in 2014 Rosie Boylan will be one of the key collaborators on She Only Barks at Night.

Where does your process begin?

It depends on the arena that I’m working in. When I’m making hats for stage or screen there’s usually a character brief, or if I’m making a commissioned work there’s usually the person’s physical characteristics and an occasion. If I’m making something to sell in my shop it’s much more spontaneous. For the stage and screen work there’s usually a lot of discussion around character, their motivation and who they are. Across all arenas, headwear helps to define character.

Is there one of those fields that you prefer working in?

I like diversity, doing it all! But I think I probably work at my highest order on film. When you see your work on the cinema screen it is very big! On a project of that scale there is a need for the headwear to be right and there’s usually budgets that allows you to take the time to get character looks right. Film is where I can have the most process with what I create.

Could you tell us a little bit about your film work?

The biggest thing I’ve done recently was the headwear for the feature film The Great Gatsby. For which, the costumes won an Oscar and a BAFTA this year. I’ve worked on a lot of feature films. I created hats for Moulin Rouge, Australia, Oscar and Lucinda, Babe  to name a few- I’ve been making hats for stage and screen for thirty years in Sydney so I’ve got quite a substantial CV.

What was The Great Gatsby like to work on?

It was an amazing project in terms of budget, scale, and creativity. We made over 500 hats and wrangled a further 500. Gatsby was set in a time that celebrated a freedom of expression – people were busting out of the formality of the Victorian age – and they were expressing that in their dress. So it was a very joyful era to spend some time immersed in. Even though, all the people in the hat department absolutely worked their arses off. We coined it The Great Hatsby!

Are there any specific materials that inspire you or that you get excited to work with?

My inspiration comes from my materials. I can pick up a fibre or a piece of bling and it will tell me what to make. I also love the classic fibres that milliners work with- fur felt, (generally made from rabbit fur) and straw. I particularly love making straw hats because they range in a variety of textures and fibres that I source from all over the world. The fibres all respond differently to hand manipulation. I enjoy exploring new textiles too – recently I went to Samoa and worked with a Tapa cloth maker. I am always on the lookout for new textiles and fibres that I can incorporate into my hat making.

How would you approach making something for a film differently to making something for theatre?

Between the two art forms there are different construction and stylistic approaches.

For theatre you make things bold. You have to heighten lines and details to give more punch, because of the physical distance of the audience to the stage. You construct the headwear to be robust because a show has a season to run, often doing eight performances a week. Whereas, in film the camera zooms in and out so you have to be careful with the detail. There can’t be a whisker out of place.  Often in film a moment is captured in one shot so the construction can be light and fluid.

What’s it like working with performers?

I see them a bit like racehorses coming into the stables for grooming, they kick their hooves against the stable walls, a bit frisky. We calm them down, preen and polish and brush their manes and then they prance off for their race. As a backstage person you’re there to serve the production, to make the performers look good, feel comfortable and confident in their characters’ persona. The fitting room is a unique working environment where we collectively imagine and realise a character and the world of their play,

What are you looking forward to about working on She Only Barks at Night?

I’m really excited! I haven’t worked with anyone who has a process quite like Michelle. It appears completely organic. So I’m looking forward to that. And, I’m really excited about the taxidermy themes. In Victorian times there was plenty of dead animals going onto big hats. There are some parallels in taxidermy and millinery construction techniques which I hope to explore in our Living Room Theatre collaboration. I think it’s going to be a great theatrical, expressive moment.

More about Rosie: Click Here