Story by Chelsea Forman
Maria Curcic is assertive and confident, delivering the story of her life with candor and a charming touch of humour.
She is a unique blend triple threat: painter, hat designer and DJ. Maria has turned her passion for the arts into a successful career and her ever-evolving collection of handmade hats has gained a cult following.
Maria was born in Paris, France, where she spent the first eight years of her life. Paris, she says, was influential in developing her appreciation for arts and culture.
“Growing up in France, I took ballet and did art. I was very immersed in the Parisian culture and my mom always pushed me to be creative,” she explains.
Maria and her mom would spend days in Paris shopping and exploring. Fashion was a considerable part of their day-to-day lives; they were surrounded by it on the Parisian streets.
“My mother always had me in hats and little outfits and we’d go shopping at the markets. She was a seamstress so she was very fashionable herself. She wore lots of accessories — a hat or scarf or very cool purse. She believed in a good accessory to finish off a look,” says Maria.
At the age of eight, Maria and her mom moved to Calgary. Maria began to learn English and Serbian and adjust to life in Canada, while continuing to focus on art. Her mother taught her how to sew and design clothing, and on a trip back to Paris one year, Maria learned how to make hats, setting her passion for the craft in motion.
“We went back to Paris in the late ‘70s and a friend of my mom’s made clothing and accessories, so she taught me the basics of hat-making,” Maria.
|Hat designer Mara Curcic, wears one of her own handmade hats in her studio. Don Denton photography|
Upon graduating high school, Maria attended the Alberta College of Art and Design, majoring in drawing, and after that she continued studies at Mount Royal University, where she majored in interior design. Her education led to a job in architectural rendering for design firms.
“While I was working at various architectural firms, I always remained creative. I modelled for hair and fashion, and produced fashion shows. I was always part of Calgary’s arts and culture scene. I actually made my first [hat] fascinator in the ‘80s for a fashion show,” Maria explains.
In 1994, Maria decided to take a leap of faith and quit her job at the architectural firm to open her own hat store. She called it Le Chapeau Rouge, which translates to The Red Hat. The name was an homage to the roots of her creativity: those childhood days in Paris exploring the great city of arts and culture, wearing a little red hat, given to her by her mom.
Maria’s store carried an exquisite collection of high-end hats sourced from around the world and also her own designs. Her collection of sophisticated, fascinator-inspired hats quickly gained a following.
“I have always made all of my hats from the design to the end product. I make my own patterns and everything by hand. I go crazy with material. I get it from Toronto, Montreal, Italy, France and England. That’s it. For me it’s about loving the process and seeing the end result.”
Eventually, Maria made the decision to freelance her hats and she began wholesaling them to stores across Canada and the United States. As she became increasingly busy, she made the difficult decision to focus on the freelance component of her business.
“I decided in 1997 to close my store and start producing my own hat shows. I would produce hat events in the form of fundraisers for different organizations in Calgary. I did that for over 10 years. I didn’t want to mass produce; I felt that I would lose quality and design control. Then the internet came about and I started an online store. I still produce my own shows twice a year and use my internet shop,” she says.
Maria has designed hats for science fiction television shows and made hats for CBC Television on season one of Frankie Drake Mysteries. She also collaborates with Toronto’s modern fashion designer, Zoran Dobric.
“I can go from ‘40s- or ‘50s-inspired headpieces to something very avant-garde. You can give me a paper bag and I could make you something from it. I have always been able to do that with my endeavours, whether it be the hats, painting or music – it’s all art creativity and a form of expression.”
|Hat designed and handmade by Maria Curcic. Photo courtesy Maria Curcic.|
Upon the successful launch of her freelance company, Maria began to DJ at clubs and lounges in the evenings and was able to develop both her knowledge of music and her reputation as a personality in Calgary. She was eventually offered her own radio show, Mary’s Web at www.radioradio.ca, which she continues to produce 35 years later.
When Maria’s mom passed away, she decided it was time for a significant lifestyle change.
“I’m a water person. I had visited Victoria and I loved how relaxed I felt there. It has a great vibe so I made the decision to move. I’m getting too old to not make decisions. It was the best decision of my life,” Maria explains.
Maria has immersed herself in the arts culture of Victoria and the West Shore, where she has now lived in Colwood for four years. Her renowned abstract paintings are currently on display in Victoria’s new wine bar, The Collective. She also continues to design hats and sell them to an international clientele. As she continues the newest chapter of her life in Victoria, Maria shows no sign of losing momentum as her creativity continues to fuel her genius and passion for design.