Iconic couture: Former designer fashions a charming life in Silverton

November 2019 Posted in Arts, Culture & History

Artist June Hiatt of Silverton with some of her new creations. Nancy Jennings

By Nancy Jennings

With her distinctive British accent, June Hiatt, 84, speaks passionately of her past career as a fashion designer. Having lived in London, New York and Los Angeles, she made outfits for the late musical icon David Bowie, and the glamorous actress Raquel Welch. A random Sunset Magazine article about Silverton attracted her. In 2016 she moved here from Playa Del Rey, California to live with one of her daughters.

“When I saw Silverton, I thought ‘it’s so charming!’ I just love it here,” she said. Her home is a veritable art gallery – a feast for the eyes, where nearly every object is a conversation piece.

Born in a little country village called Tibberton, in Worcestershire, England, Hiatt moved to the U.S. in 1957 on St. Patrick’s Day. She was raised with three brothers. Her family took in a WWII evacuee from London, “Pete,” who lived with them for six years.

She was married and widowed twice, and has two daughters and one granddaughter. Her first husband (Jay) was an advertising executive during the 1960s – whose career meshed nicely with hers and sparked impressive connections. The couple met celebrities who valued their professional expertise, and this opened doors to further socializing at well-known nightclubs in New York City like Studio 54.

“Jay liked music very much,” Hiatt said. “He played music on the riverboats when he was 12. We had a lot of musical friends uptown, mainly on the West side.”

In Los Angeles (circa 1971), Hiatt was hired to design David Bowie’s outlandish outfit for his first U.S. concert during the rise of his iconic “Space Oddity” single – which included the widely recognized lyric “Ground Control to Major Tom.” Her needlework took two days.

“He wanted velvet trousers. We ended up getting him a pair of women’s jeans. My mom helped by applying glittery silver rhinestones on the backside. The front was all black,” she recalled.

“The costume fabric was numbers on children’s quilting fabric, full of bright primary colors (orange, yellow, green, blue, red). I made trousers and a jacket with a stand-up cowl around the neck. He was tiny with a size 24- or 26-inch waist and 32-inch hips. His hair was a bright pinkish-orange color,” she smiled.

In 1976, she was called to Las Vegas to fit actress Raquel Welch in a chocolate-colored silk charmeuse dress for a Clairol commercial.

While in London (circa 1969), she was able to meet actress Samantha Eggar, who co-starred in the original 1967 movie, Doctor Dolittle. Hiatt was in the region to see English actor, Dirk Bogarde (well-known from the 1971 film, Death in Venice), and alter his outfit on the Spanish Steps in Rome. This advertising project was for Foster Grant sunglasses.

Looking back, Hiatt said her biggest influence was French fashion designer Christian Dior. She made up
her mind to pursue a career in fashion at just 10 or 11.

“My aunt was very talented with the needle. My mother wasn’t – she was a knitter but she didn’t make any clothes. I loved dressing up my dolls. I was very feminine then… but I’ve become very ballsy now,” she laughed.

Hiatt still creates jewelry, quilts, scarves and whimsical pillows. She completes four or five quilts each year. She is particularly fond of making neckware made of felt pieces, reminiscent of a past job working with felt as a hat-maker. “Felt comes in very intense, strong colors.”

Her favorite colors run in the cool spectrum: “I wear a lot of blue, but if I look at nature, it’s green because you see so many different shades every day.”

Her favorite fabric is “dupioni” silk. “It’s textural.” She also loves “ikat.”

“It’s a weave where they weave the design before it goes into the loom,” she explained. “It’s so intricate and mathematical.”

Does she have a favorite shape? It all depends on which day it is.  “I’m into roundish shapes now, like the Yin and Yang symbol. I also like Celtic circles.”

She keeps active at the Silverton Senior Center exercising twice per week at the “Keep Fit” classes, as well as joining in at the weekly needlework group, “Knit Wits & Hookers”, where she recently took a class and learned how to make a “whimsical sea dancer.”

She even modeled clothing for sale at one of the center’s “Tea Party” events. To keep mentally active, she subscribes to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines  and “speed reads” books.

“I always have a dictionary by my side,” she said. “I’m starting to read some words incorrectly and I like to check them for accuracy.”

Even while juggling her creative projects, she makes time to give back to the community – she recently finished making 12 pillow slips to donate for children at SACA.

Her advice for living a long, fulfilling life? “The more you give, the more you get.” 

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