Making hats and making magic with 'Once Upon A Time' guest milliner
“If you think of a costume as a sentence, a hat is the exclamation mark,” says Kelly Dunlap, milliner for “Once Upon A Time. ”
“You can’t have an evil Queen without a crown and you can’t have a fairy princess without some sort of beautiful head piece.”
Canadian-born Dunlap, who loved playing dress up as a kid and was especially taken with her grandfather’s fedora collection, says making hats for “Once” is a dream job.
“One of the first things Eduardo (Castro, designer for the show) said to me was, ‘Darling, it’s fantasy, there’s no wrong way of doing something.’ It’s not like a period piece where you have parameters to work within. It’s very imagination-based.”
The first of Dunlap’s hats that made an appearance on the show was in episode 13, “Whatever Happened To Frederick?” adorning Princess Abigail (Anastasia Griffith).
“I knew right away that I had the perfect hat block for the job and was excited to start work on it right away.” (A hat block is the wooden form milliners stretch the hat material over).
“Last summer, I had a block carved for me by U.K. block makers who carved this block for one of the milliners who made a hat for Kate Middleton. She wore this hat to the Epsom Derby last year. From one princess to another,” Dunlap laughs.
After wiring the crown to give the hat structure, Dunlap covered it with the suede and sewed everything by hand. “I ruched a piece of suede so it draped down the back, then used the centre tail feather from a pheasant, secured with a brass finding on the side. I didn’t sew it down so it had a lot of movement when she’s walking and on her horse. It adds to the elegance of the costume,” she says.
The hat took a few days to build, but Dunlap wasn’t just making one hat, she also had to make a duplicate hat for Princess Abigail’s stunt double.
But building a hat for a stunt double adds its own challenges – especially to make sure it stayed on the actress’ head. “Sometimes we use elastics that run underneath the hat, but it’s not always practical when there are wigs involved,” Dunlap says.
Instead, she sewed a fine nylon mesh (called “crin”) underneath the hat to help bobby pins secure the hat to the actress’ hair.
The Evil Queen’s hat rained out
Princess Abigail’s hat might be the first of Dunlap’s featured on the show, but it wasn’t the first she made for “Once.” She had already made a hat for the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) in the eleventh episode (where the Queen is visited by a centuries-old genie).
“They were shooting on location on a beach, and it got rained out, so at the last moment, they had to switch up the Queen’s wardrobe to something that was more accommodating to the inclement weather,” says Dunlap.
"While the beautiful hat I made for that episode didn't make its scheduled appearance, it is perched on a shelf in Eduardo's office, awaiting its Fairy Tale Land debut!"
And when Dunlap isn’t making hats for the show, she works as a background performer. “It’s one of the most fun background jobs in Vancouver,” she gushes, admitting she’s a huge fan of the show.
“If you’re in Storybrooke, it’s a fun, fantastical setting and Fairy Tale Land is such a joy because you get to go for a wardrobe fitting and play dress up even more!”
About Lindsay Zier-Vogel
Lindsay Zier-Vogel has been working for CTV.ca since 2008. In addition to interviewing the famed American choreographer Bill T. Jones and Canadian prima ballerina Karen Kain, Lindsay’s highlights include criss-crossing Canada on four SYTYCDC audition tours and covering the Juno Awards. Follow her on Twitter!