i“You’re not shy when you wear a hat,” according to Ranelle Larocque, the owner of Queen Bee Millinery in downtown Perth.
It’s a fact that Ranelle discovered quite by chance.
Born on a farm in Manitoba, Ranelle grew up in Yellowknife NWT. A proud northerner, it was here that she met her husband, Rob Marois, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Following their marriage, Ranelle often found herself attending formal military functions.
“I was always looking for something to wear so I began to collect vintage hats and to wear them to these gatherings,” explains Ranelle. “They gave me something to talk about. They made me feel good.”
Over time, Ranelle began to look at how the hats were made and in the process discovered something that caught her interest.
“I quickly realized that I could make the hats rather than having to look for them. I had sewn all my life,” says Ranelle who for 10 years did her research before she actually made her first complete hat.
“I started by doing designs on combs or headbands,” she explains. “They’re called fascinators and they proved to be my gateway to making hats.”
Over the years Ranelle and Rob were posted to various locations before they began to look for a place to set up a permanent residence.
Knowing they did not want a city setting, in 2014 the couple purchased a farm near McDonald’s Corners north of Perth.
“It was close to Ottawa and Kingston, two military centers, with other retired military personnel in the area,” Ranelle points out.
It wasn’t long before the couple began to bring their farm to life.
“We have horses and pigs and a Jersey cow,” says Ranelle, who at the same time began to sell her hats online, while Rob commuted to Petawawa and then Ottawa.
In March 2020 Ranelle discovered that a small shop in Perth she had always admired had become available. While she jumped at the opportunity to open her own retail outlet, her excitement was quickly curtailed.
“The opening of the store was to be my 44th birthday present,” laughs Ranelle. “Everything was ready to go. Then we heard the news flash that literally told us to stop what we were doing and go home.”
Covid-19 had hit.
Throughout the pandemic Ranelle continued to work on her creations.
Although hats can be reminiscent of days gone by, “they don’t have to be stuffy,” Ranelle points out. “They can be fun. “
She designs everything herself.
“Each design is a one-of-a-kind piece of wearable art,” she says proudly. Some of Ranelle’s pieces have made their way to the Royal Ascot horse races, as well as the Kentucky Derby.
Ranelle finds inspiration all around her.
“I love nature, flowers, art, sculpture, a window box, a friend’s garden. Sometimes even a song will strike a chord and get me thinking. Making a hat is a very free-flowing process,” she says. “I may start out with a particular idea, but in the end it could look very different.”
For Ranelle the challenge is turning her vision into reality. Not every idea makes it there.
“If I get an idea, I will pin everything and then leave it. I’ll sleep on it and if when I see it the next day, it puts a smile on my face, then I know that it’s a keeper,” she explains.
She will then spend the next couple weeks bringing her creation to the next level.
When complete, every hat, according to Ranelle, has its own personality. It’s just case of waiting for the right person to come along.
“A hat always finds its rightful owner, “declares Ranelle confidently..
“It’s hard not to feel good when you’re wearing a hat,” she explains. “It gives you the confidence to be who you are.”
The other thing that has given Ranelle a boost is the support she has been given by her fellow business owners.
“It makes you feel like you’re not alone,” explains Ranelle whose colorful creations and warm smile have brought a welcome spirit to Perth’s downtown business community.