Corina Myla Haywood never set out to be a milliner. A painter, perhaps, or a writer. Although she always had a thing about hats. “I’m a hand-me-down queen. I wore vintage hats starting when I was 10. I liked them when they got really ratty.”
But she moved to New York in 2001 after college, thinking maybe she could get a job in publishing while she worked on her novel. So there she was, living in a warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, doing those odd jobs you do while you’re figuring out your dreams, your future, surrounded by creative energy, everyone making something. She started doing art again in a big way — painting, which she hadn’t done since graduating from L.A. County High School for the Arts back when she was going to be a fine artist.
“Everybody was behind me on that,” she says. Her mom and dad, both Quakers and social workers (dad is now a woodworker), made sure she had art classes from age 8 or 9, and she got a lot of attention for her drawing. But then as a senior in high school she went through a rebellion of sorts. Perhaps she would teach high school. She wanted to pursue something academic, away from South Pasadena where she grew up. Enter history and San Francisco State.
O chapeau: Hand-dyed flat toyo
hats (top on vintage hat block)
Why history? Maybe because from the time she was 8 months old until she turned 18, she spent two months of every year at the Renaissance Fair — as a peasant, thank you very much. But don’t think she wasn’t envious of the noble girls. “There were certain colors that we weren’t allowed to wear, like purple and red, which come out a lot in my hats now!” Her school — “what they now call a free-school situation” — had a booth and collected all the proceeds. Ultimately, she got her college degree in creative writing. “I was determined to get an academic B.A. and I did.”
Anyway, there she was one day in Williamsburg, with a friend who was looking through a catalog from the Fashion Institute of Technology. “What’s millinery?” Haywood asked as they leafed through course descriptions. Her friend explained and whammo-bammo: “I said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to be doing.’ ”
As it happened, the program was under threat of being canceled so the professor promised to teach the class everything she knew. “We learned five or six different ways of making hats” — including hand-sewing with a pattern and free-blocking, which is what Haywood does. “The teacher said you’ll have no problem with that because this is how women have been making hats for the last 50 years. Women in the ’30s were doing this for extra money. They were using pots and pans to block hats because they didn’t have a head block. My brain went crazy with that idea. I loved it. I practiced like crazy. I never worked so hard for anything.”
Hats brought all of Haywood’s creative interests together — from art to making jewelry to writing to the entrepreneurial spirit she’d earlier expressed in owning a mobile flower cart — as well as giving form to the pixie charm that defines her.
“A part of my life is the idea of making something beautiful and to make something useful. It’s God’s work.”
She moved back to South Pas in 2002. “There’s something to being where you’re from. I realized if I wanted to do this, I needed help and they” — family and friends — “were offering it.” As she shapes her fanciful chapeaus — often in a twisted paper called toyo highlighted with delicately detailed ridges and found objects, always vintage, maybe an abalone button or mother-of-pearl buckle — she also contemplates a question that often confronts young designers: How do you build your business while remaining true to your vision?
She struggles with the notion of hiring a helper: “Sometimes the hats get confused and they don’t know where they’re going!” There’s an organic element to hat-making as the material evolves, the inimitable touch of the maker. However, a few weeks ago she realized she needed to train an assistant if Myla & Co. Hatmakers — the name she decided on for her line — was to grow.
Mostly, she just wants “to make people look adorable.” She likes the idea of the hat as frame to bring out whatever is going on in the face.
“I made the hat for someone to feel good wearing it. And somehow the hat says something about me. Each is different and they all have little personalities.”
Myla & Co. Hatmakers available at Aero & Co., 8403 W. Third St., (323) 653-4651; Show Pony, 1543 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park, (213) 482-7676; Salt, 1138 1/2 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 452-1154; and Hodgson Antiques, 1005 Mission St., South Pasadena, (626) 799-0229 (Sundays only); orwww.corinahaywood.com.