The unique and flamboyant hats created by Jodie are a familiar sight around Lewes, but they’re also a firm favourite with global celebrities who love their eye-catching appeal and the wow factor woven into every detail.
Her fabulous Fumbalina creations feature on Medellin, the latest Madonna video, while one was worn by Skye Edwards of the Morcheeba band when she appeared on the Sarah Cox Show on ITV. Skye also wears many of Jodie’s pieces on stage as well as in music videos.
The Ab Fab movie, seen around the world, was a perfect showcase for a wildly extravagant display of Jodie’s quirky and extravagant take on fashion.
Her popularity with celebrities was confirmed when a gloriously OTT creation made an appearance at Kim Kardashian’s ‘Wonderland’ party for her daughter’s first birthday and another featured at Kylie Jenner’s daughter’s baby shower earlier this year.
Jodie’s work has graced the pages of the likes of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and many of the leading fashion and bridal magazines as well as appearing in the Royal Academy of Arts and Aberdeen Arts Museum.
But they can still regularly be seen much closer to home as Jodie strolls around Lewes – and when you catch a glimpse of one of her stunning and elaborate hats, it’s impossible to resist the urge to take a closer look. You won’t be disappointed when your eyes take in the stunning details and exquisite workmanship that goes into each one of these fantastic and quirky pieces.
Jodie’s work is pure showmanship so it is no surprise to learn that she studied Performance Arts at university in Manchester. But having decided that a career in dance and drama was not where her future lay, this Yorkshire lass felt she was back to square one and at a loss what to do next.
“A friend had just moved to Brighton and asked me to visit, saying I would love it there,” Jodie recalls. “In just half a day I had fallen in love with Brighton and within weeks I had moved there and started to work out what I was going to do with my life.”
Jodie became a regular visitor to music festivals and it was from there that her fascination with unusual headpieces sprang.
“I was so disappointed because I’d expected to see all kinds of elaborate headdresses at festivals but at that time there was nothing like that, just stalls selling hundreds of little flower wreaths, tiny little things. Every woman there seemed to be wearing one but they all just looked pretty much the same. I wanted to buy something fun and different, but there was nothing like that, nothing that appealed to me.
“I’ve never wanted to look the same as everyone else, that went against the grain for me. Since a very young age I’ve wanted to stand out from the crowd. I’d go to car boot sales and buy things like old 1970s leather jackets – other kids on the block weren’t doing that.
“In Brighton I got into the wonderful music scene there and as I had to do something to pay the bills, I began doing DJ work and I wanted something to dress up in for that, to be playful and fun. So I started wondering if I could have a go at making things like that myself.”
That was the beginning of what developed into her Fumbalina business, creating superb flights of fantasy that are beautifully-crafted and guaranteed to draw the eye to any wearer.
“I love to rummage and like the idea of re-using ‘found’ items, giving them a new life, so I was always in charity shops and flea markets, buying broken jewellery, pieces of fabric, all kinds of things I thought I could turn into something I could wear.
“That was about ten years ago and at that stage I was just playing around, making things for myself. One of the first things I made was out of an old seven-inch vinyl record which I turned into a headpiece for my DJing.
“I’d had no training so I was making it up as I went along but I gradually learnt my trade. Friends who were getting married would ask me to make a floral headdress for them and as they were paying me, I knew that I had to put it onto a level of achieving a certain quality. Until then I’d been making things just for me but now I had to be professional in terms of the workmanship and the materials I used.
“I didn’t have a background in either millinery or fashion so at first I felt I was on the back foot and wondered ‘can I do this?’ I knew I had to up my game so I did a lot of research and did a few courses in London on the millinery side. Those courses just confirmed that I was doing it right – there was no big secret to millinery, a lot of it is mainly commonsense and lots of practice to get it right.
“I started making much more elaborate designs which worked really well and that gave me a real confidence boost.”
From there Jodie didn’t look back and eight years ago she established her Fumbalina business, did her first photoshoot and set up her website.
Just as impulsive as her previous move from Yorkshire to Brighton was her decision to come to Lewes and set up her studio here about four-and-a-half years ago.
“I loved Brighton but felt I wanted to be somewhere smaller and I fell in love with Lewes from the moment I stepped off the train,” she says. “I always go on gut feeling and it just felt right, I knew it was the place I wanted to be.
“Lewes is such a creative place and I felt at home straight away.”
Jodie’s home studio in Lewes is a hive of activity and creativity, filled with an array of all kinds of colourful materials and accessories just waiting to be turned into a stunning and ‘bonkers’ piece of millinery work of art.
“I still find lots of things in the Lewes antique shops and charity shops but a lot of things are donated to me,” she says. “People who know me don’t throw things away, they give them to me to see if I can make something with them. Sometimes someone will stop me on the high street and hand things over – that’s wonderful as I like to see things being re-used and given a different life.”
Jodie now has a wide range of clients who want something distinctive and eye-catching, including a great deal of floral work associated with weddings but also for people going to festivals and vintage fairs who want to wear something extraordinary on their heads.
“As well as my collections which can be seen on my website, I get a lot of commissions from people who want to be more ‘out there’, have something different. Performers often want things with the wow factor for their latest show, something flamboyant and unique. I get a lot of requests from drag artists and theatre companies and have just done some lovely pieces for a ballet company.
“My customers know that every piece I make is unique. I never make more than one of anything so they know what they are wearing is the only one in the world. I always keep to my original ethos of everything I make being unique and that still rings true in all I do.
“Inspiration for designs comes from the materials and items I work with. I need materials in front of me and sometimes what is there can inspire me to make up a piece very quickly.”
Jodie’s workshops are proving very popular – she loves encouraging participants to be curious about what they can use to create something very special and works with small groups such as hen parties and occasionally elderly people who want to have fun while expressing their creativity.
She is also making full use of her visual flair by taking on photographic work, doing photoshoots for other people’s websites. One of her recent inventions, developed with her partner of 12 years, is interactive ‘midi-controller’ headpieces, essentially light-up musical instruments that you can wear/play on your head. The latest was used to perform at this year’s BBC proms and last December’s British Composer Awards.
“When I first started I did worry that I was at a disadvantage because I’d never done textiles at school, hadn’t been to fashion school, and it took me a while to get over that,” Jodie says. “But I got there in the end although I’ve done it in a different way from most people.
“I’ve worked my socks off to get here and I still work very hard but I love what I do – I’ve found my thing, my niche.”