marie-claire ferguson


Marie-Claire is a milliner who started her career in archaeology and landscape architecture. Once her child was born she grew her hobby into a career by gaining millinery qualifications and started her business in England before relocating back to Northern Ireland.

We learned about Marie-Claire’s change of career path and her proudest accomplishments.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

Millinery was not the initial career path I set out on. I studied both Archaeology and Landscape Architecture at University in England and worked in the field of heritage and archaeology for about 12 years, it was a great experience that enabled me to travel worldwide to some amazing places. It was only on the birth of my daughter that I realised the amount of travel and long hours associated with this line of work wasn’t very compatible to bringing up a child. I had in the years previously, undertaken a night class in millinery, purely as a hobby - but had then got completely hooked on it. I loved the tactile, 3D, sculptural element to the craft. I then completed another few years of courses in order to gain some millinery qualifications and following that set up a millinery business in Yorkshire. I returned to N. Ireland about 8 years ago now and have been running my millinery business from a studio on the edge of Strangford Lough ever since.

What or who influences and motivates you?

It would be difficult to pin point any particular things that influence me, I take inspiration from numerous and unexpected places. I love the sculptural and tactile aspect of creating a hat or headpiece, there is more engineering involved than one might think in order to get some of the pieces to sit stably at the correct angle. The flowing lines and strong forms of Zaha Hadid’s architecture has been an enduring influence. Also being lucky enough to live in such a beautiful place on the shores of a lough means I’m constantly spotting organic shapes and forms in nature that inspire me.
I suppose I also must admit that my use of unexpected colour combinations comes from my rather messy nature. Sometimes just seeing a jumble of threads, fabrics or feathers that have been dumped carelessly on the floor throws at me colour combinations that wouldn’t normally spring to mind, but that I think work wonderfully.

What has been your biggest hurdle proudest moment or accomplishment in your career?

a. biggest hurdle
I suppose I’m lucky enough to not have seemed to face many major hurdles in my business (so far...!). The transition from working in England, where there is an established millinery network and an understanding of handcrafted pieces, to Northern Ireland where (at the time) there wasn’t a great deal of demand for hat wearing or awareness of the craft of millinery posed a bit of a challenge. Thankfully I retained many customers from the UK and have also established a base of loyal clients internationally.
b. proudest moment/accomplishment
I suppose many people would see dressing a ‘celebrity’ or ‘high profile person’ as an accomplishment, but that doesn’t really do it for me. I feel proudest when a customer who initially felt nervous about wearing a hat or had never bought one before, leaves my studio with a big grin on their face saying they’ll definitely be back for ‘the next one’. For me designing a piece for someone means taking the time to get to know them a bit over a coffee, finding out about their style, outlook and personality and then using that insight to create a piece unique to them, something they feel comfortable and happy in.
I’ve made hats for a number of film productions and I enjoy the challenge of creating authentic looking period pieces to the strict deadlines imposed, (although it doesn’t always feel terribly enjoyable at the time!).

Could you give some advice for any young, emerging designers?

My main piece of advice to give to young or graduate designers here would be to experience work and business as much as possible abroad. Travel as much as you can and try and work in as many different design environments as possible and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Also trust your ‘gut instinct’, you know where your real skills and talent lie, hone them and make them your trademark. Don’t get distracted by fashions and fads, what you do needs to be authentic, enduring and set you apart from the more fickle, throwaway high street market.