NAJO Artists Series | Ellen Patterson
Australian born, free-spirited, self-expressed bird of paradise Ellen Patterson @highhatartist is a milliner, DJ and poet currently based in the Middle East. As part of our NAJO Artists Series, Ellen sits down with NAJO to discuss creative expression, personal jewellery style and what inspires her artistic journey.
NAJO What were your motivations for becoming an Milliner/DJ/Artist? When did you realise this was something you wanted to pursue?
Looking back, a sign of my millinery destiny is perhaps the fact that out of every single new country or place I’ve ever moved to, a hat rack has somehow always wound up being one of the first pieces of furniture acquired. It took me until the age of 27 to really realise millinery was my true calling. And then it took until 30 before I could break from corporate shackles to pursue it.
I’m so passionate about individuality & freedom of expression, which makes perfect sense now being a milliner. Plus I’ve always been extremely good at fiddly, meticulous things with my hands, ever since I was a kid. This skill is imperative in millinery. Hats look like they’ve been effortlessly blown together by a gust of wind, but believe me when I tell you the process is hold-your-breath-awkward-torture. A labour of love.
I also DJ, though I believe “mood curator” is a more fitting description. I’ve been passionate about music & collecting it my entire life. My parents were heavily into the new wave/ post-punk scene, so I grew up being influenced by so much amazing music. My own interest & curiosity has then led me to unravel more and more genres I adore.
"Even just to acknowledge within myself, “I am an artist” took a long time. Now I know I’m finally following my true path, which ultimately is my path to happiness and self-fulfilment."
NAJO You have such a unique sense of personal style, can you talk us through your process?
I’ve basically been playing dress-ups my entire life, you see. I started out in the chook pen trashing my genie & fairy costumes, to then trawling charity stores with Mum. I LIVE for the bargain, just like Mum. Money never buys style. My wardrobe pretty much consists entirely of second-hand gems from home, travels & living abroad. I take special care of everything - (hand wash it if in doubt!)
I use clothes to express all the different characters of my personality, which is why hats are so much fun too. I’m also motivated by not being wasteful, which my parents instilled in me growing up on a semi-rural, rainforest property. So I’ve never been into feeding the consumerist monster or being hung-up on “trends”. There are certain styles I love and I always roll with them, metamorphose them. Now, I decide whether to adopt a garment into my wardrobe only if A) I intend on keeping it forever B) it can be mixed & matched with the rest of the gang or C) whether it’s a unique statement.
NAJO How does Jewellery play a role in your personal style?
For the most part, I use it to accentuate, unify and/or harmonise an outfit. That may be through repetition of colour, shape or pattern in my clothes or hat, or playing into the theme of the character: classic 1920s glam, bold & funky 60s or tactile Multi-Culti. Occasionally an ensemble will be about a statement necklace, but most of the time it’s about the HAT, which is when I use jewellery to compliment.
NAJO We loved shooting with you for NAJO. Please tell us which jewellery pieces you loved the most and why?
I had so much fun! I think it’s obvious from my beaming smile, right? I love mixing silver & rose gold together. The Herringbone necklaces in silver & rose gold are lustrous, chic & versatile. The Josephine Black Onyx ring elevates that colour combo tossing black in the palette.
Love at first sight with the Weeping Widow drop necklace. In fact, the whole set is very dreamy & elegant.
NAJO Travel and new cultures are so important to you, what do you find most inspiring about living in and travelling to different parts of the world?
Being exposed to new perspectives, new cultures, new traditions, new everything. Curiosity & adventure lead to discovery… you walk through doors you never knew existed. How enriching is that? Especially hearing the stories of people I meet along the way. I’m a storyteller and fascinated by discovering how life is in far-flung corners.
I’ve just moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, so now when I go out in public I have to cover my shoulders & knees. This is one of the biggest compromises I’ve had to make against my true, self-expressed self. It’s a serious adjustment, but the aim of the game is living a private life, where “no rules” apply. Now living in Riyadh, every single thing is discovery, which in this day & age of total access to information, is an incredible thing to experience. True discovery. I remind myself of this on the days I am struggling with culture shock!
NAJO What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire your personal style and life as an artist?
As we move through life we are inextricably bound to change. As an artist, I feel I embrace this and inhale each phase, each chapter, which for me, brings about new characters and “styles” of the moment. I relish in the playfulness & fantasy of hats. They have the ability to make one feel like another character and bring about different emotions. How FUN! How ALIVE! I’m a big fan of absurdism as well, which ties into fantasy.
NAJO We are a brand designed by women for women. Who are the women that inspire you?
Patti Smith, Grace Jones, Victoria Grant, Marta Lamovsek (brilliant Slovenian artist & friend), Alisa Fedele (incredible musician & friend), Iris Apfel, Britt Kanja (uber-stylish, hat-loving icon in Berlin), Ronni Kahn (OzHarvest founder + my neighbour once upon a time in Bondi) along with all those incredible friends in my life, displaced from their homelands, who have stories of resilience & courage.
NAJO Who is a favourite artist/musician/poet?
Bowie, Sade, John Lennon, Nile Rogers, Brian Wilson, Henry Mancini, Alice Coltrane, Eden Ahbez, Alan Watts, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Phil Lynott. And an extra special mention to Craig Ruddy, who recently passed, the most inspiring artist & human I had the privilege of calling a friend.
NAJO Where can people see more of your work?