Fashion writer Weiqi Yap sat down with milliner extraordinaire, Yana Markova, last week in London and learnt more about her awe inspiring creations that people just can’t get enough of.  

From ornate floral fixtures to diamond-encrusted head guards, Yana Markova’s oeuvre of bespoke headpieces is an ode to history and fantasy.

Image: Yana Markova

Hailing from Russia, Yana Markova trained in fashion design at the Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts. Upon graduation, she moved to Moscow, where she went on to work as an accessories designer for some of the largest designer and jewellery brands for fifteen years.

Much of Yana’s designs draw inspiration from historical figures and royal headwear – she has dedicated collections to that of Alexander the Great and Anna Karenina. Just based off the intricacy of each design, we were surprised to hear that every piece was handmade by Yana herself. Adopting motifs from Middle Eastern headbands, traditional Russian kokoshniks and kikas, Yana only ever creates one version of every headpiece, making each design one-of-a-kind.

Now a household name for artisanal millinery, her headpieces have been met with critical acclaim, featured in the likes of L’Official, Cabinet Del Art, L’étoile, HELLO! Russia and Invoise. Now dipping her toes in everything from stage to film, Yana’s success is well on its way to becoming something bigger. We caught up with the talented milliner to talk about her creative journey, and how she goes from conception to execution.

The Fashion Conversation: You trained as a costume designer, and went on to work as an accessories designer. How did your interest in millinery begin? How did you decide to specialise in headpiece design?
Yana Markova: I studied costume design in university, and after I graduated I went on to work with a big Russian company as an accessories designer. I designed everything from shoes to bags to jewellery. I worked there for ten years, and when I left, I thought, headpieces aren’t too far from accessories. And when it comes to accessories, we already have a massive variety. But headpieces are an untapped area that allow me the space to create something unique every time. I’m not a seller, I’m an artist. Each piece I create is one of a kind.

TFC: Your designs are incredibly detailed and intricate – tell us more about how they’re made. How long does it usually take you to construct each piece – from inspiration to execution?
YM: First I need to find inspiration, and once I find my inspiration I decide what materials I can use. Whether it’ll be soft or hard. One of my favourite materials to work with is metal, I love working with metal. If I choose to work with metal, I then try to find different ways I can use it to create my vision.

Image: Yana Markova

TFC: Where do you find inspiration and how do you go about doing your research for each design?
YM: Different countries, when I travel around the world I find new inspiration.

TFC: What is a recent place you’ve been to that really inspired you?
YM: Just yesterday I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London. I found a new idea for my new collection. I saw the fashion collection but I was inspired by something else.

TFC: What are some of the biggest challenges you face when designing headpieces?
YM: As I mentioned, I’m always looking for new materials. So each time it’s a new challenge because I need to find a new way to use it. So I don’t use the same material all the time, I try to explore as many materials as I can with each new design.

TFC: What do you enjoy most about designing headpieces?
YM: When I see the final product. It’s fascinating to see it go from an idea to a tangible, finished product right in front of me.

TFC: And how do you decide when something’s finished or complete?
YM: It’s difficult, because for artists it’s very difficult to stop your process. But my university experience has taught me to stop when I need to. It’s about striking a balance between stylish and crazy.

TFC: As a headpiece designer, you have to work closely with stylists, makeup artists, film directors, photographers, etc. How do you think it impacts your approach to design?
YM: The design considerations change depending on the project. Because when I work on movies, for example, it’s historically based. So I need to make it historically accurate and visually similar. I work more like an artist than a designer, because I need to choose similar materials that match the character at hand. Whereas if I work for a client, they might have a different set of ideas. For singers and performers it should be light, because they need to move on stage. So a lot of different considerations for different purposes. And for movies, as I mentioned, historical accuracy is key. And when I do just editorial, I have a lot more creative freedom and it’s more about delivering a theme or idea effectively.

Image: Yana Markova

TFC: Would you ever consider working with a couture brand, perhaps?
YM: No, in Russia designers don’t want to work with me. Because a lot of the attention goes to my headpieces instead of the clothes. But I think it’d be great if designers could collaborate, because with different niches working together, you could create something completely new and original.

TFC: What are your plans for the near future?
YM: Hopefully London Fashion Week. I’d love to do an exhibition of my works someday as well.

TFC: Any advice for design students looking to explore headpiece design?
YM: I think every student should be familiar with history. History is very important. Once you know the history, you’re aware of your references and you avoid creating something that’s already been done. Knowing the past helps you create something new every time.

Check out Yana’s works here.

About Weiqi Yap
Weiqi Yap is a Singaporean fashion writer based in London. Currently pursuing a degree in fashion journalism at London College of Fashion, she finds herself constantly fascinated (and frustrated) by fashion. An avid thrifter and full-time houseplant hoarder, you’ll probably find her at a charity shop or at home, taking one too many pictures of her cacti collection.