I remember the first week of my new found freedom and crazy amount of time after I left my career in London to pursue a career in Millinery and Drag. I was so excited!
My partner and I had just moved into our new house and we finally had the space to afford us both a room each, our studios, where we could create and work on ourselves.
My partner, Rob, an artist snatched up the other room much to my irritation and I was left with the small box room. I however, then, had the pleasure of working from home. Every day I would wake up and begin my day of working from home. I soon realised the difficulties of this and it only fed my anxiety.
Each episode I was riddled with the guilt of wasting this time I had been given. I was worrying constantly that I wouldn’t find it in myself to pick my ass up and crack on with the major task ahead. Then came something I didn’t expect. Besides the weekend, when in character as Madame Mu Mu, this strong, potty-mouthed drag queen, I was fine the moment I stepped out on stage or started painting my face. I could handle the large crowds and the businesses of the venue. However, as soon as I disrobed and rubbed the night away from my now sweaty face and returned to Chris the nerves would begin.
I was finding it hard to step out as just Chris, a hat designer, into the world and walk down busy streets and be amongst large crowds, away from the security and comfort of my home and box room. I would spend, then, Monday to Friday day time alone and not see a soul, besides neighbours and postman/woman. I needed to break out of it. This habit I had created. Anyone in these shoes now, read on how I did it, I hope it helps you.
I decided I would put off making any more, let’s be honest, less-than-good headpieces, and wait until I was trained. I sketched and sketched. I handled my anxiety by simply saying no to working at home on jobs I could do in a cafe or even a museum. I would gather my books and pencils and walk into town. The number of people got larger and larger as I got closer and then I would slip into a quite cafe where I would find a comfy spot, usually looking at the people passing by, connect to the Wi-Fi, BUY and SUPPORT the local business I was in and draw away. I was after all working on my first ever mood...Ki Mi.
This practice of forcing myself out of the house and into the public really helped but I needed a reminder as to why I was doing this. I set one. One I couldn’t ignore and still to this day it remains in the same place. Every morning the first thing I would see. The reminder that I was given this gift of time to work on something I wanted since the age of eleven. My logo! I took one of my then business cards and stuck it to the side of my bed so that I would see it first thing in the morning. I instantly saw the result. I realised straight away that by not doing what you love, you’re only cheating yourself. It was a massive wake up call!
Upon the completion of my course it was all systems go. I finalised the collection and slowly but surely built up the fabrics I would use for my first mood. I again realised the expense of this and started working at Mu Mu as a waiter on a Monday to help with finance. It meant that during Monday’s I was fed and watered by work and earning some money. It was a god send. Highly recommend hospitality to people who want to be artists and not starve whilst earning some money.
My little box room took on another life and I would work slowly but surely creating these designs from 2D to 3D. A few hats into the collection I soon figured out that my little box room would have to become a storage space. I hate clutter and mess!
It was driving me crazy. In an organised manner and fed up of running up and down the stairs from my kitchen to my box room, for many reasons, I transitioned to my dining room table. I learnt as well that I can’t sit in silence. It irritates me and I need some noise to drown out the white noise I experience in my ears. I can’t quite explain it, perhaps tinnitus, but it’s there. Constantly buzzing away, thinking!
I would work from the dining table, cut from the floor on a mat given to me by my mother, dye in the kitchen, block by the sink, heat and melt a fabric I have become to hate and stop using, and then after the day pack it all away or sometimes leave it out to carry on the next day. Plenty of pins went flying and my poor partner and unsuspecting guests would feel their wrath! Sorry guys.
I remember completing my first collection and from that I stood admiring each piece, laid out as they would be in my three-day exhibition, and cried. I was so happy. I couldn’t quite believe it.
A wall in our open planned living space became the wall I would shoot my first mood against. It was a joyful day and after shooting my moods Drag, Flora and Ocean on a location, aware of the expense, I made the decision to shoot my moods on a plain mannequin head by myself to make my website appear cleaner. As I said in my first post, My Many Facets, this is not for the faint hearted. Being an artist you don’t starve nowadays, but you can. The expense is unbelievable. There is no point doing it if you are just going to have an air of “meh” about your product. It needs to look great. This costs money.
In 2016 my partner and I helped a friend out and since then she, Sam, has become our housemate and lives on the top floor. This of course created a massive shift about. The spare room became our bedroom which meant my overflow of hats would be stored in my box room. Our old bedroom became Sam’s new home and the dining room got swapped about to become the lounge resulting in me occupying the space.
Separated by cube shelving this area became my little studio. I love packing things and I adore organisation so my box room studio became this Jenga Block/ Tetris like game of organised hats, fabrics, trimmings, feathers, hats blocks and my collection of beautiful, coffee table fashion books that I have been lucky enough to be given.
I would work day and night. On one occasion through a recommendation of the amazing Daniel Lismore, check him out, I was asked to make some bonnets for my favourite magazine Love. I couldn’t believe it. I made these three, milk maiden like bonnets and worked on them profusely until finished.
By 6 am the next morning I went to bed leaving a note for my partner who thankfully went out and got me more of the fabric needed for one bonnet. Whilst I had three hours sleep I woke up, completed the hats, packed them, boarded a train to London to deliver them to the offices of Love. I was pinching myself. They didn’t get used, nature of the business, however, Love were kind enough to credit me in the shoot and there my labels name sat between the peers I so look up too. Totally worth it.
As my label has continued to grow it has got busier and busier. My stress levels have risen and I have had to find ways to deal with this. Organisation is key and you have to come at this with a militant fashion in order to achieve it. The running to do list continues to grow but each day it’s been crossed off.
One day I decided it was time to start looking for a reasonable place to rent where I could move my business out of home and into a work space that I could shut at the end of the day. I would sit watching TV and behind it, through the cubes shelving, I would see my work, taunting me. It needed to happen fast. Stretched for cash I really needed somewhere cheap.
I called a few places and even had one place laugh at me. Maidstone has so many creatives residing in it yet there is no support for the arts in the area. Buildings lie empty. Spaces that could so easily be bought to life by a collective of creatives. I decided, middle of 2019, to put a Facebook status up asking if anyone knew of somewhere. Low and behold, someone did and it’s a seven-minute walk from where I live. Someone is looking after me. So lucky!
The tenants had moved out of their 21 metre squared unit and settled their catering business in their new unit. I viewed the unit and understood the amount of work I needed to do. The rent was a dream and because it’s below the rentable value I don’t have to pay business rates. I got the keys!
Again, strapped for finance, I did it all. From ripping the kitchen out, taking off plastic sheeting from the walls, pulling up the flooring, scrubbing and sanding down before painting the walls, cleaning the ceiling and repainting it and even you tubing how to screed a floor. Day and night and then returning home to work on orders and my new mood Pride I saw it slowly coming together. If you want to view the whole transition of the space, go to my Instagram - @JulianGarnerHeadwear - and look for the highlight “Studio”! It’s all there.
The day came when I could move in. My partner and I, poor guy, I am so sorry Rob, even pushed, on a skate board, those cubed shelves from our home to my studio with plenty of tantrums and impatient flare ups coming from yours truly. I was a complete idiot, but so grateful to him. Slowly but surely my studio came to life and still there is much to do, however, I feel like my label has moved onto the next step of its journey. An important one. I still feel anxious about the added expense but every time a sale comes in I realise my dream can carry on. There is such a thing as a happy studio dance and when something happens, I shake my carcass and flick my hooves.
Between home and work my label grows. I’ve said good bye to the anxiety of working alone and grown to enjoy my space.
The road to success is always under construction.