MILAN–At only 29 years old, milliner Gigi Burris has made a name for herself for the bold feather and organza flower-trimmed head pieces and hats she makes by hand. Since graduating from Parson’s School of Design, where she was mentored by couture milliner Leah Chalfen, her designs have been worn by superstars Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Moving up in the the industry like a sky rocket in flight, she was placed on the Forbes “30 Under 30″ Art and Style list in 2013. One year later, she was selected as a CFDA Vogue Fund finalist.
BACO’s Editor-in-Chief Sofia Celeste caught up with Gigi in Milan at the city’s upscale eatery Innocenti Evasioni, where the Florida native talked about her journey through Italy’s artisan heartlands and what it is like to be an artisan in a modern age.
SC: You visited fabric firms like Cotonificio Albini, ribbon maker Remmert and exquisite button factory Linea Mitiaro on this trip. How did this trip change your mind about hand craftsmanship in general?
: “This trip will boost my brand to a new level. This is craftsmanship you can only find in Europe.
My favorite factory was the Galleoti Puime factory that created breathtaking feathers. There were hundreds of colors that each feather could be dyed, and the place was simple magical.
SC: I know that your hats have been worn by Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Is that really your style? What is your brand identity?
GIGI: We are blessed to work with such incredible artists. It’s inspiring to see women with such unique style gravitate towards our pieces. When it comes to defining brand identity. It is a feminine yet subversive spirit.
SC: How did you learn the art of millinery?
GIGI: I learned at Parsons School of Design.
SC: Companies complain that young people don’t have the patience to work with their hands. Is it hard working with your hands? How long does it take to make a hat?
GIGI: I absolutely love working with my hands. The process differs between styles, but there are at least 2-3 hours of hand labor go into each individual piece.
SC: What are some of your favorite Made in the USA firms?
As far as other brands go… I really love what Shinola Detroit
is doing. Bringing manufacturing back to a city that has lost its way a bit.
SC: Your dad hunts alligator and your fiancé is an exotic skins tanner. WOW. With Hermes and LVMH cornering the exotic hides market, what sort of success have you had in reaching international fashion firms?
GIGI: I think for a small brand like my own, it is hard to meet the quantities and volume of the larger houses. It gives them a certain competitive edge with the international suppliers. Which is why the Milano Unica trip was so great.
SC: You are only 29. What were some of the key events that helped propel your career?
GIGI: Being part of the Vogue Fashion Fund was definitely something that educated us and propelled us into a new level.
SC: Where do you see your NY-based brand in 5 years? Would you ever come to Milan and open a studio? Can I work for you? JK.
That would be simply fantastic! In 5 years, I hope we become known as one of the major contenders in the headwear category, known for quality and for inventive style. I would love to receive the partnership of a larger house to collaborate with and supplement some of our growth as well. Currently we are a very small operation with a tiny team – and we are proud of our humble beginnings – but we plan to grow much larger.