Just a year after arriving in Queenstown from Perth, part-time milliner Nicola Gredziuk, 54, is already turning heads. She tells PHILIP CHANDLER, who put his hat in the ring to interview her, why she’s moved here and why she struggles to wear a hat herself
When Arrowtown entertainer Charlotte Graf played ‘The Red Queen’ at a recent Queenstown fundraiser, people were asking, ‘where did you get that hat?’
Turns out her wig head-piece, along with her costume, were made by milliner Nicola Gredziuk, who’d arrived in the resort from Australia a year prior.
Though she’s made hundreds of hats and been trained by renowned Melbourne milliners, Gredziuk’s really only been a sporadic milliner and costume designer.
Originally from Mosgiel, near Dunedin, she moved to Australia when she was just two as her dad was a resources industry engineer.
Her high school years were in Adelaide, where she bought a hat from ‘‘a really trendy shop’’.
‘‘It ended up being hideous, and I thought ‘I’ve spent all this money on it, I’m going to remake it’.
‘‘I did, and I had people on the street going, ‘Where did you get hat from?’’’
At 18 or 19, Gredziuk moved to Perth and was employed as a business analyst in the oil and gas industry.
In ’96, however, she moved to Melbourne for two years and took lessons from renowned milliner, Waltraud Reiner, and learnt wire-frame work from another ‘‘amazing’’ milliner, Louise Macdonald.
She then had a year in London where she studied fashion and learned to make fabric flowers.
A head-turner: As ‘The Red Queen’, Charlotte Graf wore this splendid head-piece, made by Nicola Gredziuk, at a recent fundraiser for the Liger Leadership Academy
Back in Perth, she continued in the corporate world, but now and then ‘‘I’d sort of crack the shits and go off in a huff and feel I needed to do something creative’’.
‘‘I really only dabbled at being a working milliner, and, when I did do it, I didn’t find it that satisfying mainly because it’s really hard to get clients who let me be original.
‘‘They would normally come to you with a photograph of something they’ve seen in a magazine.’’
Gredziuk, who also studied fashion design and textiles in Perth, did, however, collect about 1700 vintage wooden hat blocks — ‘‘I found it really hard to go past antique shops and not buy blocks’’.
After the birth of her daughter, who’s now 19, she thought about becoming a draughtsperson before going to woodwork school to learn to make her own hat blocks.
‘‘I got a bit sidetracked and made furniture for a little bit instead.’’
She says there’d have been little millinery work in Perth, anyway — ‘‘the racing industry’s not that big there, and people don’t understand millinery like they do in Melbourne’’.
‘‘I would do the odd hat for Melbourne Cup but that was it, so I started to do bridal [work].
‘‘But I just couldn’t stand the clients, you know, the Bridezillas — the majority are like that.’’
Pre-Covid, Gredziuk was also ‘‘a one-person wardrobe department’’ for a private school.
Then, during Covid, she retrained as a Pilates instructor.
On her career changes, ‘‘I think my husband [Anton] would probably like it if I actually knuckled down to one thing and gave it a good crack’’.
Two years ago, their family home burnt down just after they’d renovated it, due to a faulty built-in gas heater — her hat blocks proved to be particularly flammable.
By this stage, she and Anton had already decided to move to Queenstown, where her mum had retired to about 10 years ago.
They’d frequently holidayed here and liked the lifestyle, so they bought a house in Lake Hayes Estate.
‘‘It won’t be our forever home, but we just thought it gets us going, and you can’t rent here in Queenstown.’’
Gredziuk’s joined the Queenstown Photography Club — ‘‘I’m really enjoying that’’ — and they’ve joined two 4WD clubs.
She’s doing leave cover as a Pilates instructor at Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort where she also does yoga classes — that’s where she met Graf, and ended up designing for her.
As to her fascination for hats, Gredziuk says ‘‘it’s kind of like a full-stop on an outfit … like the exclamation at the end of a sentence’’.
The fact fewer people wear hats for special occasions is ‘‘just dreadful’’, she says.
‘‘It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to give you bad hair, and that’s why I like [head-pieces] on wire, because I’ve got short hair.
‘‘If I wear a hat, I have helmet hair, so just having a little thing, even if it’s a clip, a flower … [it’s] just gorgeous.’’