Genevieve Foddy

Photo: Christian Carroll

Photo: Christian Carroll

Age || 40

Company Name || Genevieve Rose Atelier

Job Title || Designer & Founder

Company Start Date || Early 2018

Years Living In New York || 8

Social Handles || @genevieveroseatelier

Company Website || Genevieve Rose Atelier

What did you want to be while growing up?

A costume historian, diplomat, Italian teacher, Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly. I had (and still have!) a lot of different interests, many of which I have been able to try over the years and many which now happily combine in my current work life.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting your own line?

This is not a piece of advice I was given but rather something I observed. Success almost never comes over night, but over many years of refining your skills and design voice. I try to remind myself to keep working, keep designing and be patient.

How do you define success?

The ability to constantly move forward and improve. Every season when I make a new collection I consider it a success if it’s an improvement on the last collection — if I have pushed my design and technical abilities but honed my aesthetic. Success for me is the ability to find and communicate your own design voice.

Photo: Christian Carroll

Photo: Christian Carroll

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?

It’s often difficult to remember this but I try to remind myself that past experience has shown that it’s important to stay focused and keep moving forward. Every time it looked like things weren’t going to plan, or weren’t moving anywhere at all, little opportunities presented themselves. Many didn’t look like much to begin with but then grew into more important possibilities when I pursued them.

What made you interested in starting this brand?

I worked for many years for a New York milliner who makes beautiful day-wear hats, fedoras, and sun hats. It was an incredible experience to learn that type of hat making and that side of the business, but I missed the kind of millinery I had first worked on in London. Bridal and Derby headpieces are very feminine and intricate and require a lot of very fine hand-work and delicate materials. I really like the precision and delicacy of that kind of sewing and wanted to bring that style of headwear to America.

Have you faced any obstacles as an immigrant building your business?

Aside from the usual red tape of visas and work permits I’ve been very lucky not to face any obstacles as an immigrant. In fact the millinery world in America is very diverse with many people in the industry hailing from the Caribbean and South America, and of course New York is about as multicultural as you get.

Do you have a personal motto?

I have an image as a motto — it’s photo of the Prada Marfa store. If you’re not familiar with it, it is an art installation of a life-size Prada store in the middle of nowhere in Texas. I went to an e-commerce seminar a while back and one of the presenters said there’s no point having beautiful product or a beautiful website if you isolate yourself away. I’m naturally a somewhat shy, behind-the-scenes sort of person so this image reminds me to get out of my workspace and interact with customers and other creative people.

Working at Prada was also my first real fashion job, right out of grad school, when I first moved to NYC. So I like to remind myself of that exciting new time of (stylish!) new horizons.  

Photo: Christian Carroll

Photo: Christian Carroll

Which women inspire you?

I’m always inspired by brides (and other fashionable women) who are brave enough to forge their own style path. When you’re planning a wedding people often tell you that you can do whatever you want but it’s incredibly difficult to get away from conventions and family pressures. I love seeing a bride who is confident enough to get married wearing a bright color, or in an unusual location, or to serve her favorite childhood dessert because it’s delicious and she wants it.

How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?

Ooh that’s a difficult one! Every person working in a creative field often has moments of self-doubt. It always works for me to sit down and do some sewing. It helps to remind me that I like the actual process of what I do, and, even if on a wider scale things are not going to plan, I can connect with the creative process.

What is the hardest part about being your own boss?

It can be very difficult to switch off, particularly as I also work from home. My husband has come home more than once to find the apartment (and cat) covered in feathers and tulle and me with a crazy look in my eye. I try to get into a routine where I stop at 6:30 or 7 every evening and make some proper dinner. Cooking is a great way to distract myself sideways.

What inspired you to design hats?

I’ve always been really into fashion history and historic costume and am a bit of a royal watcher (they wear so many great hats!). I’m also really interested in preserving traditional skills so when we moved to London, and I had the opportunity to study millinery, I jumped at the chance. We don’t often get the chance to wear a hat these days so it’s quite a special occasion when we do. The more hats I made and studied, the more I became interested in taking this very old-school craft and item of clothing and giving it a modern twist, while acknowledging it’s vintage magic.

How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?

I like to be very tidy and organized so, if I’m feeling overwhelmed, chances are my work space needs some attention. I prioritize taking a moment and organize my space and make a realistic to-do list of priorities. Then I know I’m not wasting time looking for materials or repeatedly trying to work out what I should work on next. And a proper cup of tea always works.

What has been the most rewarding thing since starting your line of hats?

I’ve been fortunate to have a few of my pieces worn by some very high profile women, but it’s much more rewarding to see a bride or first-time Derby attendee put on the kind of hat or headpiece she’s never worn before and light up with the confidence and glamour a special hat gives.

Photo: Genevieve Foddy

Photo: Genevieve Foddy

How have you worked to keep female empowerment at the core of your brand?

I am a female owned business making hats for women! Although I make very feminine hats it’s important to me that they are all comfortable and wearable and make the wearer stand taller and feel fabulous. I don’t like clothing to ever hamper or restrict movement.

I’m also very lucky to work with a lot of wonderful stylists, journalists and influencers who are all strong, confident women forging their own path. I love that we’re in it together.

What advice would you give to other women trying to enter your field?

I spent several years interning and working for established milliners in London and New York before starting my own line. For me, this was absolutely invaluable for honing my millinery skills, learning how a small creative business works, understanding the market and making contacts with clients, press, suppliers and other milliners. Unless you already have a lot of these contacts and experience in this sort of small business, I would recommend some time working with established people in the industry. That said, I would be cautious that you are compensated fairly and are given a good number of skilled tasks to work on. Yes we all, at some point, start from zero, but ideally you should always feel like you are moving forward in your internship or job.

What is your creative process like?

My terrible secret is that I can’t draw, so you won’t find me sketching in a cafe like a French couturier! From a practical point of view I start off by looking at current color trends and I try to offer a range of pieces in different sizes and at different price points, so there is hopefully something for everyone in the collection. From there I make a lot of mock-ups, pinning together basic shapes with various trims and embellishments, ensuring the pieces look good from every angle. I also try to wear each new piece for a few hours to make sure they are balanced and comfortable. This can look a little odd on laundry day.

What are some of your goals moving forward for your brand?

I would love to further develop my derby hat line and start to convince American wedding guests that it’s really fun to wear this kind of hat to a wedding. I would also love the opportunity to collaborate with some of the small independent bridal gown designers I love, and one day, with a large partner like Kate Spade or Anthropologie.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Fielding