Designer Claudia Schulz takes the vintage art of millinery into the chic and modern present.

When Claudia Schulz first approached a local milliner 15 years ago and asked to be tutored in the art of hat-making, she wasn’t bringing a lot of experience to the table. “I come from a social work background. I remember her asking, ‘How are your sewing skills?’ and me just responding, ‘Well…I’m crafty!’” Schulz laughs.

Schulz had grown up in Berlin, collecting hats from vintage stores and on her travels; newly immigrated to Canada and without a work visa, she had time on her hands to try designing for herself. Despite Schulz’s lack of skills, that milliner took her under her wing, and from there, she continued honing her craft solo (“I’m a bit of an autodidact,” she says), studying up on new techniques and experimenting as she went. Her signature style began to evolve: classic shapes were deconstructed; sensible materials took on a sculptural edge.

A mention in Daily Candy in 2008 catapulted her brand into the public eye, and coverage in Wallpaper, Glamour Italy and other design and fashion publications followed. Since then, she’s become a global name (her designs sell everywhere from New York to South Korea). But Vancouver remains her home base—hand-carved hat blocks imported from England are scattered throughout the live/work Gastown studio she shares with her photographer husband and their teenage son.

Judge Barbara Atkin calls Schulz’s work “a modern, global view of the fine craft of millinery” and praises her for “understanding old-world craft and reinventing it for modern times.” And that spirit of invention continues, even now. “Playing with the materials and coming up with a good design and something different and new…that really keeps me going,” says Schulz. It’s why she picked up straw for the first time last year and tried her hand at some woven designs. The Isa fedora, one of her experiments and part of her summer collection, features whimsical, messy knots of coloured embroidery thread. Somehow it looks both totally familiar and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. “Trends have a little influence,” says Schulz, “but for all these years, I’m just kind of doing my own thing.”

2017 Designers of the Year ▸▸▸