Hats off for Vicki Car – Milliner and Wheel Builder
Precision, meticulousness, love for detail – the building of headdresses and wheels has more in common than one might think. The Australian Vicki Car has combined her two passions: she’s Head of Millinery at the Australian Ballet – and also builds wheels in a bike shop.
Vicki Car doesn’t pursue just one, but two rather exceptional professions: on the one hand, she is the artistic mastermind and creator of hats, tiaras and jewelry for the Australian Ballet; on the other hand, she builds wheels for the biggest BMC dealer in Australia, KAOS Custom Bikes in Melbourne.
From Theatre to Ballet
The origins of Vicki’s current career aren’t found with greasy bike mechanic fingers nor backstage at the ballet, but rather at the theater. As a mechanist, she put up sets and worked on shows. “I loved the work but it was very physically demanding and the hours were long”. She knew that she couldn’t keep doing this job forever. “One night we were unloading a truck. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, snowing, and I couldn’t feel my feet or my hands. If the truck driver called me 'girly' or 'love' or 'princess' one more time l might have gone mad”. She suddenly realized that she didn’t want this job anymore. Because she has always been interested in design and building props, Vicki chose night classes in Fashion Millinery at the London College of Fashion. “From that first class I was sure this was what I wanted”. From that first class I was sure this was what I wantedAfter 18 months of studying while still working backstage, she found employment at Convent Garden, working for The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet. Part of a team of three other Milliners, she felt as if she had finally found her tribe, Vicki says.
Felt tricorn, shoe-hat, tiara…
“What I love about my job at the ballet? The diversity”! What I love about my job at the ballet? The diversity!She could spend one day making felt tricorns for soldiers, the next making a shoe hat for the Ugly Stepsister in Cinderella, or a sparkly tiara for Aurora. Vicki enthuses about the close relationship with the dancers: “To have the skill to give a hat or headdress that exceeds the expectations of someone who has such talent and vision is incredible”. She also really appreciates to work together with different designers, choreographers and materials, the Milliner says. Her job also bears some challenges, the Australian tells. “The most difficult part of my job is separating my ideas from the designer’s. In the end it is the Designer’s vision and it is my job to make that vision a reality. I don’t have to like it, I just have to make it”.
The New Kid at the Bike Shop
“At the Ballet I am used to having the knowledge and the skill to solve the most difficult builds. At the bike shop I am just the new kid,” Vicki laughs. The Australian works part-time at KAOS Custom Bikes, the biggest BMC dealer Down Under. The shop is owned by Andrew Oosterwhegel, who also builds wheels himself. “Andrew could build 300 pairs of wheels a year and the care he takes with each set is amazing,” says his employee. But how did Vicki, the Milliner, get a job at KAOS? Vicki’s brother got some wheels built for his bike at KAOS. His sister was fascinated the moment he showed them to her. “The binding of the spokes was perfect. I asked my brother to take me with him the next time he went to the bike shop so l could meet the person who did this beautifully simple and intricate work”. There she first met Andy Oosterwhegel. As they were talking for a while about binding spokes Vicki mentioned that she was uncomfortable on her saddle. She then went in once a week for over a month to test different saddles. They even realized that Vicki’s husband is Andy’s old school friend – they hadn’t seen each other for 25 years. Vicki started to take her bike to Andy for servicing and joined the KAOS shop rides.
Later on, Vicki bought a BMC Streetracer road bike from Andy. “When he built my wheels he also showed me how to bind them myself. I must have showed some aptitude because he said if I ever gave up being a Milliner he would give me a job”. But why building wheels? “I like having skills that are somehow uncommon, whether it is making tiaras for a ballerina or building wheels for a cyclist – they are not skills that many people have”. I like having skills that are somehow uncommon, whether it is making tiaras for a ballerina or building wheels for a cyclist – they are not skills that many people have.Although Vicki got offered a full-time job building wheels at KAOS she won’t turn her back on Millinery „Why not do both!“ Vicki laughs. KAOS Custom Bikes owner Andy took Vicki under his wings. “It feels a bit like I’m doing an apprenticeship. To have just a fraction of Andy’s knowledge passed along makes me feel very privileged”. She says that she understands the processes more and more as she is constantly repeating them with different wheel, hub, and spoke cross combinations. “I’m getting better at knowing why when something goes wrong,” Vicki states.What makes a wheel good, is quite similar to what makes a good bike, the Australian explains: quality components that are well-assembled by someone who is skilled at their job.
“Cycling is like the freedom of childhood“
Cycling to me is the closest I can get to feel the freedom of childhood,” Vicki says. Like most Australian kids she used to ride her bike everywhere: to school, to the beach, to friend’s houses. She rediscovered cycling when she returned to Australia and after the birth of her son Nate. “When Nate got big enough to sit in his baby seat on the back of my bike we would go for rides on the weekends. He used to pat me on the back and shout: ‘Mama, faster!’” Eventually she borrowed a friend’s road bike and was hooked. Vicki was so hooked that she decided to buy her own. She has upgraded three times since then and now rides a BMC Timemachine TMR01 – with handmade wheels from Andy of course. “Besides my TMR01 I also own a self-build single speed to commute, a BMC Speedfox for riding the trails, a vintage step-through with a basket on the front – and I’ve got my eye on the 2015 green, Granfondo GF02 because l would like to start racing cyclocross. It’s hard to stop”! It's hard to stop!
Parallels between Millinery and Wheel Building
“What we build has to enhance performance, whether that is pirouettes on a stage or descending mountains on a bike,“ Vicki describes the similarities between Millinery and wheel building. Vicki says that it is crucial to understand why and how people use their bodies. With this knowledge, she can help them to improve, enjoy, and look good at what they love to do, whether it be dancing or riding a bike. “The finishing is obviously miles apart: wheels get rubber tires and tiaras get crystals and pearls, but until that point there is a precision and meticulousness that is needed or the whole thing can go very wrong”.
You can visit Andy and Vicki at KAOS Custom Bikes on 981 Glen Huntly Road, Melbourne