Her Instagram handle @hatgoddess sums her up.
Greater Victoria-based artist Maria Curcic is what is known as a milliner, a word not often heard nowadays but which originated in the 16th century to refer to Milanese merchants who sold fancy hats, gloves and more.
One of the rare few in the industry in Canada, Curcic has been designing hats and headpieces since 1985. Look up milliners on Google, and only a handful of businesses pop up Canada-wide.
Curcic’s love for intricately created fashion and her dislike for the “whole fast-fashion scene” was birthed growing up in the world’s fashion capital, Paris, where her mother was a seamstress.
“You’re surrounded by beauty in fashion. You never saw messy buns and yoga pants. It’s just a different culture,” she said. That love for fashion has stayed with her her whole life.
“If you saw my closets, you’d probably go ‘what the hell?’ I still dress really funky and fun.”
Globalization has largely changed the clothing industry in the last few decades, and Curcic has noticed. Decades ago, she was buying a lot of fabric and textiles made in Canada. Now, “it’s hard to find nicer fabrics and trim.” Despite that, making things high-quality is what she prioritizes, and it’s what sets her products apart.
“I made a hat one time and I tried to take it apart because I made an error and I was so angry, I couldn’t pull it apart because it was stitched so well,” she said laughing.
Curcic graduated in 1988 from the Alberta College of Art and Design, where she majored in drawing and began creating hats for high-end boutiques in Canada and the U.S. in the early ‘90s.
In 1994, when she was in her 20s, she had her own store in Calgary called Le Chapeau Rouge. She eventually shifted her attention to wholesale in stores across North America in the late ‘90s, and then went on to focus more on designing one-of-a-kind pieces.
“I wanted my hats to be little works of art,” she said.
For her, the draw in creating hats is they create “mystery and intrigue.” With clients like brides-to-be, people who have trouble with hat sizing, and “stylish ladies,” Curcic is able to approach each client with a creative, tailored process and create her hats as works of art however she sees fit, whether that means using wood blocks to steam and shape fabric, sculpting straw, or making fabric flowers.
Today, Curcic lives in Greater Victoria after moving here for a romance, and continues to live her life as a full-time milliner (selling online and in local shops), as well as a designer, artist and DJ with her own radio show Mary’s Web.
Alongside her success in the milliner world, she has also been successful in her other artistic pursuits, winning an award of excellence at the Sooke Fine Arts Show in 2019 for one of her abstract paintings, and having pieces in the Alberta Foundation of the Arts collection.
Her art mostly focuses on contemporary abstract and cityscapes in vibrant colours.
“It’s not a hobby. People go, ‘oh that’s a fun hobby.’ Oh dude, this is how I make my living,” she said. “You have to be very self-driven.”
Curcic is bringing together all her creative passions to share with others at her own exhibition, Art By Design at the ArtSea Gallery in Sidney from May 19 to 25. The exhibit will feature her paintings, hats, radio show and more. To find out more the exhibit, visit artsea.ca.
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