We had the good fortune of connecting with Mamie Raynaud and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Mamie, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I get asked this question a lot, and sometimes I think it’s because being a milliner is an unusual profession in the US. My story began in design school in my twenties. I got to know the accessories instructor who was also a milliner from Austria. She was bigger than life and wore fantastic hats with matching outfits to school. I loved her style! I hung around her workroom often between classes, and asked her many hat making questions. She showed me how felt and straw could transform into almost any shape. She was also the first person to teach me about up-cycling discarded hats instead of buying new materials. I always wanted to take her courses, but never found time to add the accessories track to my schedule. I told myself back then that I was going to learn how to make hats one day, and secretly knew there was a milliner inside me. Millinery was almost the career that got away. But sometimes when things are meant to be, life opens opportunities for you. Many years after design school, I had an opportunity to spend a Summer in the UK. The first thing that popped in my head was learning millinery! I quickly found a teacher who was willing to take me on in such a short time. That Summer, my fingers were sore from hand stitching, and my eyes were tired from working late through the night. Those were the mostly glorious 16-hour days. Millinery woke up a part of me, and suddenly gave me this sense of purpose. It also healed many bits of me that felt broken inside–like I wasn’t whole until I became a milliner. This work is so ingrained in me mentally and physically, I can’t imagine stopping. My only regret was not making the time to hear my inner voice back in design school. But it’s better late than never. 

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When I first learned about the artist inside me, I discovered she was just a toddler–still learning to walk. Confidence was a huge issue for me, and the competitive nature of the business doesn’t help. Many artists tell you to stay true to yourself when first starting out. I had not fully appreciated the advice until I became a working designer. I focused more on making beautiful things in the beginning, but now I try to make hats that have my aesthetics in them. Am I not a beautiful thing too? I also struggled expressing my culture in my work. Being of Asian descent, I fought my natural instincts. I used to be afraid to show my cultural influences for fear of being too theatrical or even kitschy. But I finally overcame that, and it’s now part of my defining style. A person should be able to look at my hat, and learn something about who I am based on its design. It’s a milestone I reached organically.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
With the pandemic in full force, Austinites have had to make some changes in the way we do business. But our businesses are still open, and our mild Winter weather gives us more days for outdoor dining. Austin is a friendly town, and it’s easy to get lost in the neighborhoods here. If you’re staying somewhere close to Central Austin or near Downtown, you can easily occupy your week without venturing too far. If weather permitting, a couple trips to Barton Springs pool in the morning, followed by breakfast in a local cafe on South Congress like June’s or Cafe No Sé. Then take a walk along South Congress and visit local shops without the weekend crowds. Be sure to stop by Big Top, an old-fashioned candy store that will transport you back in time. For dinner, try one of Austin’s cool new Chinese restaurants near downtown like Lin Asia or Wu Chow. Both have full bars and interesting cocktails. On at least one morning, you want to pack your breakfast from the taqueria truck on on Oltorf and South First, coffee at Once Over next door, and go stand in line at Franklin’s Barbecue before they run out of brisket. But if you don’t want to wait too long, Terry Black’s Barbecue is also a great option, and just a stones throw from Barton Springs. To work off lunch, book a guided bike tour. A visit to the State Capitol should be on everyone’s list, especially for your first time, and then walk down Congress from the capitol to try one of the local restaurants, do a little window shopping, followed by dessert at Voodoo Donuts. Spend one sunset at the rooftops of the Austin Main Library, where you have incredible views of the city. If you can’t get to the library, a walk across the river is just as nice. There is kayaking, paddling, and short barge cruises available at Lady Bird Lake that also makes for a fun afternoon. Stop by Elizabeth Street Cafe and pick up some Vietnamese Sandwiches and coffee for a picnic at Zilker Park after touring the Botanical Gardens. End the day relaxing in the gardens at Cosmic Coffee. Pick up a lamb taco at the food truck there for a midnight snack. Speaking of midnight snacks, if you find yourself hungry at midnight, Magnolia Cafe is a great place to pick up a stack of pancakes. On the weekend, hope over The Canopy and visit individual artists galleries on Austin’s Eastside. Dine and have coffee at the unique Japanese cafe Sa-Tén. Before leaving the neighborhood, stop by Boggy Creek Farm, the only urban farm in the heart of Austin. Head back to South Congress for some outdoor music venues available like Güero’s Taco Bar. Which is a fun place to return to on South Congress to not only enjoy the music, but visit all the arts and craft vendors. A trip out to Lake Austin, and a visit to Mozart Cafe is great fun over the holidays, and the views from the cafe can’t be beat. During warmer seasons, Lake Austin has some water sport venues available. Whether it’s the beginning or end of your week in Austin, a drive out to Mueller Park on Sunday where the weekly farmer’s market is held is a great way to taste local faire, and meet some Austin food artisans.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The first person that comes to mind is the teacher who I never took a class from, but instilled in me my pursuit and now love for millinery. From one hat lady to another, Elfriede F. Spenza was my most important influence, and someone I still talk about fondly. She passed away in 2010, but her spirit lives on in me. She didn’t know it at the time, but I was going to be the best student she never had.

Website: themadduchess.com
Instagram: mad.duchess
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Mad-Duchess-426191774545975

Image Credits
Mamie Raynaud

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